Lawmakers Advance Bill to Teach High School Students How to Reverse Opioid Overdoses

Bills to help educate juveniles and prevent fatal overdoses amid the opioid epidemic have advanced in the General Assembly.  The bipartisan measure Senate Bill 726 was introduced by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, and incorporates a similar measure from Sen. Stella Pekarsky, D-Fairfax.

The bill, which passed unanimously through the Senate, requires school boards to create a program of instruction for grades nine through 12 on opioid overdose prevention and reversal.

This type of education would include how to identify an overdose and how to administer medication such as naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose. Naloxone is the generic form of the brand name medicine Narcan.

A substitute for the bill advanced from committee and removed the requirement that such instruction be completed by graduation. Bill language now only recommends that it be completed before graduation.

Public schools would be required to have two doses of naloxone in the school and develop training protocols and policies for its use.

“While it is unfortunate that this bill is needed, I appreciate the bipartisan support for SB 726 which ensures our schools and state agencies are working together to confront the reality of dangerous and potentially life-threatening drugs in our schools,” Pillion stated in an email interview.

The bill states that the state health and education departments will help develop policies and guidelines by January next year, with local school boards implementing the guidelines by the 2026-2027 school year.

Del. Briana Sewell, D-Woodbridge, introduced House Bill 732 that requires all public schools to have a two-dose supply of naloxone by the 2026-2027 school year. At least one school nurse or other employee must be trained in its administration.

Public schools are currently allowed to have a supply of naloxone and train staff how to use it, but it is not required. Both bills include a “good faith” section to keep any employee who administers an opioid antidote, even without prior training, from any disciplinary action or civil or criminal liability.

HB 732 also has bipartisan support and has been approved unanimously by education and appropriation committees.  “This bill focuses on access and training for the use of Naloxone in schools because these programs have been proven to prevent deaths and be highly cost-effective,” Sewell stated in an email.

Sewell worked with several education associations, including the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, to vet the bill and best address the challenges schools are facing.

Emergency department visits for unintentional opioid overdoses for juveniles increased between 2018 and 2022, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. Visits increased by almost 16% for the age group of 14 and under. There was an over 13% increase for the 15-19 years old age group.

Fatal overdoses from all opioids increased last year, according to preliminary VDH data. Opioids, specifically illicit fentanyl, have been the driving force behind the large increases in fatal overdoses since 2013.

At least 10 suspected overdoses occurred this school year in Loudoun County public schools, according to a November statement from the superintendent. That means 10 students received medical treatment and four received naloxone. Four students needed naloxone the entire school year before.

There were 22 nonfatal juvenile overdoses in Loudoun County last year and almost all were fentanyl-related, an increase from 15 nonfatal overdoses the previous year.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order in response to the school overdoses in Loudoun County, stating that parents should be alerted about school overdoses within 24 hours. Sen. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, introduced Senate Bill 498 to codify this. It passed the Senate unanimously and heads to the House next.

Tiana Vazquez is the education specialist for REVIVE!, the state’s Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education program. The program trains people to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose. Programs like REVIVE! could train school employees to administer naloxone if HB 732 or SB 726 are passed, something that Vazquez supports.

REVIVE! training helps break the stigma around opioids, Vazquez said. “Honestly, it can be anyone and everyone and sometimes it’s just accidental.”

Training on opioid overdose prevention is free and available to anyone through REVIVE!. Naloxone is available over-the-counter without a prescription. “This is just another medical emergency,” Vazquez said about an opioid overdose and the use of naloxone. “We’re just trying to prepare in that way.”

By Alyssa Hutton / Capital News Service

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