Santa Clara County supervisors have cleared the way for local high schools to begin distributing Narcan, the medicine used to reverse opioid overdoses in emergencies.

Per request of supervisors Cindy Chavez and Otto Lee, the county Behavioral Health Services Department (BHSD) analyzed options to increase naloxone kits to high-priority populations like young people, students and unhoused residents, and specifically on ways to partner with the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

The report recommended funneling state funds to supply each high school in the county with 28 pre-assembled, user-friendly Naloxone kits. The Board of Supervisors at its Sept. 13 meeting decided to allocate $135,000 in state funds for the initiative.

BHSD officials said they are ready to kick off the distribution and training of Narcan this fall, dependent on the schools’ interest. The report said some high schools “have been slow to accept the need to have naloxone kits available for youth of all ages.”

But the department wants to encourage schools to adopt these resources on campus, “especially with the emergence of certain fentanyl products which are targeted at youth,” the report reads.

Just in April, police began investigating the death of a Los Altos high schooler said to have overdosed on fentanyl — the same day Chavez formed a working group to identify solutions in the fentanyl crisis.

And in January, the county district attorney charged a 16-year-old drug dealer for murder after allegedly dealing fentanyl to a 12-year-old girl in San Jose who later overdosed.

‘Pretty pervasive’ problem

Supervisor Joe Simitian, chair of the county’s Health and Hospital Committee and former school board member, said he has seen young people in his district be affected by this crisis. He said he is concerned about some hesitation from school organizers.

“When you say, ‘wouldn’t you like to have this resource available?’ The reaction is, ‘well we don’t have a problem’,” he said in a statement. “And maybe some places don’t, but frankly I’m inclined to think that the problem is pretty pervasive.”

The county has seen a rise in overdose deaths among young people over the last 20 years as opioids become increasingly available to purchase on social media and online sites, according to the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

YouTube video
A promotional video explains the effects of opioid overdose and use of Narcan. (Video via Narcan/YouTube)

“The best tool we can give youth is education, so they are encouraged to make safe and healthy decisions,” said County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan, after recognizing May 10 as Fentanyl Awareness Day this year. “I urge our community to increase awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. Together, we can prevent fentanyl-related deaths.”

More harm reduction efforts will be funded by the several million dollars in opioid-related litigation that the county expects to receive over the next few years.

The decision is a part of the county’s larger goal to make Narcan vastly accessible and prevent overdose-related deaths. Since 2015, the county’s opioid overdose prevention project has given over 10,000 Naloxone kits to community organizations, first responders, businesses and residents, said BHSD.

Raising public awareness

Paired with Narcan distribution, the county has also kicked off a $150,000 public awareness campaign to target young people ages 21 to 39, the group most vulnerable to opioid abuse.

BHSD officials also plan to collaborate with college campus organizations to ensure fentanyl test strips and Narcan are available in social settings. There are talks of installing Narcan vending machines on Stanford University and Santa Clara University campuses by next spring.

“There are myriad challenges to addressing this stealth and deadly epidemic, from evolving and insidious forms of fentanyl, to lack of awareness, to the hard work of battling addiction, to denial of the level of threat among some communities. BHSD and County Administration are committed to doing all we can to protect our community from fentanyl,” the report reads.

The county administration’s Fentanyl Working Group will continue to bring recommendations to the board as they identify needs for the community.

Residents hoping to receive a naloxone kit can visit any county addiction medicine clinic. More information can be found on the BHSD website.