Colleen Ronnei didn’t know what naloxone was when her 20-year-old son fatally overdosed on opioids in 2016.
Since then she’s formed a nonprofit called Change the Outcome. And one of its major missions is to make the overdose antidote nasal spray readily available in as many places as possible, especially schools.
“We're seeing firsthand every week the dire need for naloxone in our schools and the precarious situation that many schools are facing because of its absence,” Ronnei said at a Capitol news conference Thursday.
Versions of legislation that has passed in Minnesota’s House and Senate would require every public school building to have at least two doses of naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcon, on site. And the state would provide the money for the nasal spray, for staff training and to help develop protocols for using naloxone. That would start this summer – slower than Ronnei says is ideal.
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“Not soon enough,” she said. “We’re already a day late and a dollar short.”
Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, is also a physician who has tended to patients struggling with substance abuse. As reported overdoses accelerate, including among young people, Morrison says it’s time to act and is sponsoring the proposal, now part of budget bills that are in final negotiations at the Capitol.
“Some of the reason this hasn't happened yet is because of the stigma of substance use,” Morrison said. “I think that there are some schools who think that this isn't a problem in their district. And unfortunately, this doesn't discriminate by geography, by socioeconomic status, by race, by anything. It's happening everywhere.”
The plastic intranasal tubes of naloxone are smaller than a credit card and can be purchased for about $25 each.
The state measure dovetails with a recently introduced federal bill. Third District U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat, is cosponsoring the bill in Congress. He said that legislation would free up federal grants for schools just as they can get for the allergy remedy, epinephrine.
“It just simply allows schools to apply for dollars that currently exist,” Phillips said. “And it's actually made quite easy and easily accessible. But right now, they are precluded from doing so. And it's no surprise to any of you that schools can't even afford pens and pencils for Godsakes right now, let alone life-saving needs for students.”
The school requirement appears to have bipartisan backing. Despite broader concern this year about state-imposed mandates, Sen. Julia Coleman, R-Waconia, said this one has money behind it and is for a critical need.
“If this is funded and it’s saving children, that’s outside the realm of our concerns,” Coleman said.
This isn’t the only naloxone-related item that lawmakers are considering. Pending budget legislation would put it on standby in correctional facilities, group housing sites and other places.
And while some Minnesota schools are putting naloxone in place just in case now, Ronnei said the state nudge will ensure the antidote is accessible no matter where a child attends classes.
Having the medication easily accessible is key, because administering it within minutes can mean the difference between life and death, Ronnei said.
“I've talked to hundreds of teachers. Many have expressed a genuine fear that a student will overdose in school,” Ronnei said. “And they will be powerless to help.”