Working in urgent care and as a family nurse practitioner, outside her position as co-lead nurse of the Middletown Township School District, Eileen Gavin could "see the water recede before the tsunami hit."

Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ

That tsunami, in this case, is the opioid epidemic continually tightening its grip on countless New Jersey communities — responsible for close to 1,600 deaths in 2015 and likely more than 2,000 last year.

So she got to work and in 2015, the district's high schools became the first in the state to implement a policy devoted to administering the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, or Narcan.

Since then, the reversal drug made its way to the district's middle schools. Gavin hopes the elementary schools will eventually be equipped as well so they're prepared to respond to an overdose.

"This doesn't necessarily have to be a student," Gavin said. "It could be a visitor, it could be a parent, it could be a staff member."

A growing number of New Jersey school districts are adopting policies devoted to Narcan, such as how much to have on hand, where it will be kept, who must be trained to deploy the drug and the steps to take in the event of an emergency.

Gavin believes every district should have Narcan in school buildings, and guidelines for its use.

"Just like every school and every public area has an automated external defibrillator, it should be part of the emergency response," she said.

The district, fortunately, has not yet needed to use Narcan, which can be administered intravenously or with a nasal spray.

It's the belief of Lorraine Borek, president of the New Jersey State School Nurses Association, that no district in the state has had to administer the drug on school property.

Borek is also the nursing supervisor for the Hillsborough School District, where a Narcan policy is currently in the review stage.

"We certainly want to be able to save somebody if they should experience an overdose within the school," Borek said. "But at the same time, we need to be looking at — what is causing this epidemic, and how can we address it within the community so that eventually maybe we won't need Narcan in the schools?"

In a May 2016 memo to schools, the state Department of Education recommended that the use of Narcan should be included in district emergency response procedures.

"School districts are encouraged to consult with the Department of Human Services, their physician, legal counsel, and the school community at large prior to the development of naloxone policies and procedures," the memo read. "Furthermore, written policies and procedures must be adopted by the district board of education or governing authority prior to implementation."

Legislation in the Assembly and Senate — which hasn't moved in months — would require the presence of Narcan in all New Jersey high schools. Borek said schools don't need legislation to get rolling on their own Narcan initiatives.

"Why wait for a mandate if we know it's the right thing to do?" she said.

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