Schools in West Virginia now have the option of stocking naloxone (also known as Narcan), a life-saving opioid reversing drug that can be administered by school nurses trained in providing this treatment.

West Virginia Board of Education members approved the policy change at their September 7 meeting in Charleston.

“Stocking naloxone is a prevention mechanism in the rare incidence that a student would experience a drug overdose in the school setting. The medication could save the life of a student who has only minutes before brain damage or death,” according to the agenda item.

The approval allows school nurses statewide to use an auto injector to administer the drug when an opioid overdose is suspected.

“All board members present supported this option for local school districts to work with their schools and communities to decide if they wish to stock Naloxone Intranasal with medical orders and protocols as currently allowable for friends, family and community members by state code,” said BOE spokesperson Kristin Anderson.

Brooke County’s school system was the first to seek permission to administer the drug, and got state BOE approval last November.

At that time, Brooke BOE members successfully sought a waiver of state policy to keep Narcan in its two middle schools and one high school.

Cabell County school nurses began being trained in April to administer the drug which was provided to the district by the Cabell Huntington Health Department.

These actions follow a state trend of making Narcan more accessible to the public.

Legislation was passed last year allowing police, firefighters and others who might have a similar need – such as family members and friends of heroin addicts – to administer the drug.

“After reviewing the new law, in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the state board felt it was important to provide local school districts with this option for local control and allowed school districts the ability to work with their communities including local health, EMS and law enforcement,” Anderson said.

Heroin overdoses are becoming more common as the epidemic spreads, including the recent case of 26 people overdosing within a four-hour span last month in Huntington.

More recently, there were four heroin overdoses within 18 hours in the Harrison County communities of Clarksburg, Bridgeport and Anmoore. It is believed to have been mixed with another dangerous opioid, fentanyl.

Things aren’t better in the Eastern Panhandle.

Berkeley County Recovery Services Coordinator Kevin Knowles told council members that there have been at least 45 local deaths through August due to heroin and opioid overdoses. A total of 345 overdose cases had been documented, he said.

Overall, West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the nation, according to a June 2015 report released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

There were 33.5 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 West Virginia residents from 2011-13. It had previously been 22 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007-09. The upswing amounts to a 65 percent increase since 2007.

Researchers found that North Dakota had the lowest rate with 2.6 deaths per 100,000 people, the report stated.

Get West Virginia news headlines delivered to you daily

* indicates required