All Washington Public High Schools To Get Overdose Kits, Health Officials Cite Fentanyl Surge
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 8: A view of rescue breathing face shields and Naloxone (Narcan) nasal spray on display at a Naloxone demonstration at the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on September 8, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Naloxone demonstration was held to educate the public on the medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

All public high schools in the state of Washington will soon be receiving overdose kits, with state health officials citing the surge in fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

In a press release on Wednesday, the Washington Department of Health (WDOH) announced the deployment of overdose kits as a means to combat a dramatic rise in opioid-related youth overdose deaths. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, WDOH Chief Science Officer, called the kits a “commonsense strategy” in response to underage recreational drug use.

“Some kids experiment with substances, unaware that just one counterfeit pill can contain enough fentanyl to be fatal,” said Kwan-Gett. “Providing access to naloxone will not only save lives, but also send a powerful message that we care about the health of our youth.”

The kits will contain nasal spray devices filled with naloxone, known by the brand name “Narcan.”

Almost one year ago to date, state health officials issued a standing order to allow over the counter or pharmacy sales of up to five kits of injectable or nasal spray naloxone to anyone, including minors, with no limit on refills.

As of WDOH’s latest data for 2023, there were nearly 2,000 total overdose deaths from synthetic opioids: well over twice the amount of deaths from 2020.

WDOH documented 91 synthetic opioid overdose deaths in 2016, 142 in 2017, 224 in 2018, 337 in 2019, 672 in 2020, 1,214 in 2021, and 1,803 in 2022. Out of those deaths, WDOH reported one minor death in 2019, two in 2020, two in 2021, and four in 2022.


As for hospitalizations, WDOH translated those overdoses into a rate per 100,000 residents. The non-heroin opioid overdose hospitalization rate for minors between the ages of 10 and 17 increased from about three to about five per 100,000 from 2020 to 2022. The overdose hospitalization rate for minors under the age of 10 increased marginally from 2020 to 2021.

Fentanyl constitutes a majority of opioid overdoses.

The state of Washington follows closely behind other states enacting similar initiatives. Last month, Oregon began issuing overdose kits to both middle and high schools. Earlier this month, Arkansas put into effect a law requiring overdose kits in all public high schools and universities.

WDOH acknowledged that this initiative was a direct response to a Department of Education (ED) request to all schools last October to stock up on overdose kits. The letter followed a series of reports on schools experiencing an increase in drug-related incidents, including a surge in drug overdoses in one southeast Texas school district.

In the letter, ED Secretary Miguel Cardona and Office of National Drug Control Policy Rahul Gupta assured educators that naloxone usage wasn’t harmful, and that access to the overdose kits would only serve to reduce overdoses and not lead to an increase in youth drug use.

“In the midst of this fentanyl overdose epidemic, it is important to focus on measures to prevent youth drug use and ensure that every school has naloxone and has prepared its students and faculty to use it,” stated the letter.

Last November, President Joe Biden assured the public that his administration had a handle on the ever-worsening fentanyl crisis, a danger exacerbated by the ongoing border crisis.

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