Merkley, Scott Sound the Alarm on Opioid Overdose in Schools, Introduce New Legislation to Support School Access to Naloxone

Merkley also announces Senate introduction of bill to help prevent fatal overdoses in workplaces 

Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Florida’s U.S. Senator Rick Scott teamed up to introduce the bipartisan School Access to Naloxone Act. This new legislation would ensure school personnel would have the training and education to administer lifesaving drugs and devices for emergency treatment in cases of known or suspected opioid overdose. 

“Oregon currently faces the fastest growing drug-related death rate among teens in the entire nation—we must show up for our younger generations and present effective solutions to this crisis,” said Senator Merkley. “Naloxone saves lives, and helping schools stock and administer it is an important part of what needs to be a multi-pronged effort to tackle this crisis.”

Senator Rick Scott said, “Across the United States, the fentanyl crisis continues to rage and take the lives of innocent Americans. I’ve talked to parents all across the Sunshine State who have dealt with the crushing loss of a child to fentanyl, and know too well that Florida has not been spared from this deadly crisis, and neither have our schools. Parents deserve the comfort that if the unimaginable happens, our schools are as prepared as possible to save lives. That is why Senator Merkley and I have introduced the bipartisan School Access to Naloxone Act to make sure that our schools have the resources they need, like training and Naloxone, to respond effectively in the case of an overdose. I hope to see this deadly crisis end soon, but until that happens I won’t stop fighting to protect our kids from these killer drugs.”  

The number of adolescent overdose deaths in the United States has been steadily on the rise, with fatalities increasing from 492 cases in 2019 to, in the most recent available data, 1,146 cases in 2021.  Most opioid overdose deaths could be avoided by the timely administration of naloxone, a safe and effective opioid reversal medication.

With an increase in addiction and opioid overdose in American adolescents, it’s critical to ensure schools have the resources, training, and federal support to combat this crisis. The School Access to Naloxone Act aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths in young Americans by encouraging the stocking of naloxone and the training of staff on its safe administration in school settings.

Earlier this year, Representatives Dean Phillips (D-MN-03) and Dave Joyce (R-OH-14) introduced a version of this bill in the House.

The introduction of the School Access to Naloxone Act comes in tandem with today’s Senate introduction of the Workplace Overdose Reversal Kits (WORK) to Save Lives Act, led by Senator Merkley and introduced earlier this month in the House by Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12). The WORK to Save Lives Act would issue guidance to employers regarding opioid overdose reversal medication attainment, usage, and training.

“The COVID pandemic helped expose the depths of an opioid epidemic that has been growing for years. Workplaces across the country are dealing with the fallout from our failure to adequately address this crisis,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “The WORK To Save Lives Act will finally give workplaces the tools to save workers who are struggling with opioid addiction. I’m proud to work with Senator Merkley on seeing this fight through. Getting these overdose reversal medications – and training in their use – to as many employers as possible has the potential to save countless lives.”

“By supporting the WORK to Save Lives Act, we boldly declare that this country cannot – and will not – continue to ignore the opioid epidemic,” said Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “There’s no question that naloxone is first aid when someone is experiencing an opioid overdose. Having it available wherever people gather, including workplaces, is imperative to saving lives. The National Safety Council applauds Sen. Merkley for introducing this lifechanging and lifesaving legislation in the Senate.”

Both pieces of legislation address the national crisis of opioid overdose and aim to educate key personnel in both schools and workplaces and put resources in the hands of individuals who can step in during known or suspected cases of opioid overdose.

Senator Merkley has been a fierce advocate for raising awareness on adolescent opioid overdoses and educating the public on the benefits and critical importance of Naloxone in schools and the workplace. Earlier this year, Merkley led the Oregon delegation in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) urging the department to work with school districts around the country on how to combat the opioid crisis.

In August, Merkley spent time with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra discussing how the federal government can promote comprehensive fentanyl awareness education. Merkley highlighted Oregon’s Beaverton School District’s “Fake and Fatal: One Pill can Kill” curriculum as a model program for other school districts around the nation to follow and implement.

The School Access to Naloxone Act is endorsed by the National Association of School Nurses, National Association of School Superintendents, School Based Health Alliance, Fentanyl Fathers, Intermountain School District, La Grande School District, Erin Lair – Baker School District Superintendent, Medford School District, Meghan Chancey, Administrator/Director of Baker County Health Department.

“Once again, I appreciate Senator Merkley’s consistent effort to improve the lives of Oregonians. Due to the high rate of opium use, schools need support, training and resources to prepare a response to this crisis,” said Mark Mulvihill, Superintendent, Intermountain School District.

“It’s important for Oregon Schools to have access to resources such as Naloxone (Narcan). Opioid overdose prevention is important for staff and student safety and having an intervention plan that allows for Narcan in schools can save lives. Schools need to be prepared to respond to emergencies and provide immediate assistance when necessary. We have staff trained in CPR, first aid, as well as many other school emergencies, we need to be prepared to respond. We need to ensure we have resources to provide a timely response and encourage responsible action for our staff. Making Naloxone (Narcan) available in schools will provide opportunities for educators and staff members to be educated about the dangers of opioids, fentanyl and how the body responds to overdoses. This education promotes greater awareness to staff, students and families and will help safeguard the health and wellbeing of our students and most importantly save lives,” said George Mendoza, Superintendent, La Grande School District.

“Schools are often community hubs. No community is immune from opioid concerns and having access to life saving medications in the event of an overdose is a valuable tool. I hope we never need to use Naloxone in a school facility, but am thankful to have access should the need arise,” said Heidi Sipe, Superintendent, Umatilla School District.

“In the Medford School District, safety and security are shared values. That’s why, for the last several years, our district has made a significant investment in Naloxone and Naloxone training for staff. We have seen it administered in one of our schools already. Due to the prevalence and indiscriminate nature of devastating drugs such as Fentanyl in our community, it’s critically important that all schools and school districts have timely and affordable access to this life saving measure. Budgets are tight and any assistance in providing this critical safety measure to schools would be greatly appreciated and allow for other funds to be used in support of teaching and learning,” said Dr. Bret Champion, Superintendent, Medford School District.

Bill text for the School Access to Naloxone Act can be found here.

A summary of the bill can be found here.

Bill text for the Work to Save Lives Act can be found here.