After sending him to rehab in high school, Michelle Leopold thought her son Trevor was on a good path when he went off to Sonoma State University in 2019.
In November of that year, he bought what he thought were simple oxycodone pills. Instead, they turned out to contain a lethal amount of fetanyl. Trevor died in his freshman dorm room at age 18 with a friend nearby.
“Narcan was not as available[...] when Trevor died,” Leopold told The Standard. “If his friend had Narcan, she might have known to look for an overdose, and she might have been able to save his life.”
Also known as naloxone, the nasal spray saves thousands of lives in reversing opioid overdoses. Leopold, who lives in Marin and operates several Ace Hardware locations in the region, now carries Narcan in her trunk and frequently conducts training workshops at her stores and elsewhere.
With mounting fentanyl overdoses among youth in California, parents like Leopold are pushing schools with firsthand access to kids to be proactive in supplying Narcan and training on how to administer it.
In San Francisco, two minors died from overdoses in 2021 and 2022, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Supplying Narcan on campus is a start, parent advocates say. The training and conversations that come with it better equip young people to protect themselves and prevent deaths.
Still, local schools have been slow to do so. A Bay Area News Group survey in early December found that 60% of districts that responded had yet to train staff to recognize fentanyl poisoning and 63% said they did not have an available supply on their campuses.
Since then, middle and high schools within the San Francisco Unified School District have completed their staff training to administer Narcan. The overdose-reversing drug has also been delivered to the schools, said spokesperson Laura Dudnick on Thursday.
Tanya Tilghman, mother to a SFUSD graduate struggling with drug addiction, has been calling schools since September to track which ones carry Narcan and have trained their staff. She said she’s gotten mixed results, with some administrators telling her there isn’t yet a need or that they want the tools but hadn’t received an update.
“It looks like San Francisco is on the right track of getting the training done and getting the Narcan,” said Tilghman, an advocate with Mothers Against Drug Addiction and Deaths. Still, “it doesn’t look like all the schools are prepared. I just don’t know why San Francisco Unified is keeping so quiet about this and why they’re not allowing their schools to talk about it.”
In 2022, the district received 36 kits of Narcan from state program Naloxone Distribution Project, according to the Department of Health Care Services. Five Keys Schools and Programs received 1,020 kits in January 2022 while Gateway High School, another charter school, received 24 kits. University of San Francisco received 30 kits from the program, which supplied each campus officer and radio car with Narcan.
San Francisco State University’s order is pending, but the campus pharmacy can dispense naloxone, according to university spokesperson Kent Bravo. The public university also provides the nasal spray and opioid overdose education at campus events and workshops.
The education aspect—sooner rather than later—is more important than just the supply of Narcan, said Leopold.
“It’s one thing to have a nurse and three other people on campus know where Narcan is and how to administer it,” Leopold said. “It’s a lot more effective to have all 1,200 students know fentanyl is in the drug supply and that Narcan can reverse fentanyl poisoning.”
Further, 16-year-old Jessica Mendieta Alvarado instead wants to see Narcan supplied in wellness centers or other accessible spots that come with no questions. This way, the supply makes it to youth off campus.
“Nine times out of 10, people aren’t going to go into the office and ask for some Narcan if they get bombarded,” Mendieta Alvarado said. “Things like that deter people from carrying Narcan. The majority of times it’s needed is when teens are home alone or out partying.”
The Novato High School junior and Marin County Youth Commissioner has been active in overdose prevention and distributing Narcan and among high school students. She saw it as an issue affecting her peers but wasn’t interested in the “Just Say No” D.A.R.E.-era messaging.
“Just telling people not to do something doesn’t usually work,” Mendieta Alvarado added. “Drug use or experimentation is kind of normal within teen culture. It’s better to communicate with people to keep people safe.”
To find naloxone near you, look here.
Ida Mojadad can be reached at [email protected]