The opioid overdose antidote that is helping Bismarck-Mandan first-responders save lives is becoming available in local schools and colleges.

More school administrators and staff are receiving training on the use of Narcan, the nasal form of the drug naloxone that can be administered in the event of a known or suspected drug overdose.

Bismarck State College has Narcan in all of its residence halls and has provided training to residential assistants and supervisors about signs of opioid overdoses and how to administer the drug.

Duane Johnson, safety and security manager for the college, said the campus took that step last summer in response to the region’s opioid crisis.

“I’d rather be ahead of the game than have something happen,” Johnson said. “I hope we never have to use it.”

Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health is offering training to area colleges and school districts. Director Renae Moch said a distributor of Narcan will provide a free box with two doses of the drug to middle schools and high schools and four boxes to colleges.

“It’s a way to initiate the response program at their locations,” Moch said.

The superintendent and secretary for Wilton Public Schools participated in training on Monday, and staff are expected to receive training early next year.

Wilton Superintendent Amanda Meier said the school board felt it was important for the district to be prepared, particularly because the rural district is farther away from medical facilities.

In addition to the school population, the district hosts many community members for sports and events.

“It could potentially impact anybody in our community,” Meier said.

Middle schools and high schools in the Bismarck Public School District received the free doses of Narcan and additional staff training is planned for early next year, said Superintendent Tamara Uselman.  

“While our school resource officers are available often immediately, we want to know that, if there’s a crisis situation with our students or any other person coming to our campus, we can respond quickly,” Uselman said.

Public Health provides training on the signs of an overdose and how to administer Narcan. The training emphasizes that Narcan is not a substitute for emergency medical treatment and directs people to call 911. If it turns out the person is not having an overdose, the dose of Narcan does not harm them, Moch said.

“If we can help someone faster in the meantime until emergency help arrives, it doesn’t hurt anybody,” Moch said.

Staff at Mandan Public Schools are scheduled to get training in January, Moch said.

Mandan Superintendent Mike Bitz said the training and Narcan doses are free, so officials felt it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

“Hopefully, our school resource officers would be the first line of defense, 911 would be second,” Bitz said. “But it’s better safe than sorry.”

Moch said she’s also reached out to the University of Mary and United Tribes Technical College and they’re interested in getting a supply.

In addition, the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Library has a box of Narcan and administrators have received training, with more training planned for staff.

Library Director Christine Kujawa said having Narcan available is similar to having an AED machine available to assist someone experiencing heart failure.

Grant’s immediate impact

Police, fire and sheriff’s departments in Bismarck, Mandan, Lincoln, Burleigh and Morton counties received training and doses of Narcan through Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health and a grant administered by the Department of Human Services, Moch said.

In the first month, first-responders carrying Narcan purchased through the grant saved nine lives.

“Just the first month proves that it’s well worthwhile and it’s money well spent,” Moch said. “I was excited to see we’re making a difference.”

Metro Area Ambulance personnel administered naloxone for at least 41 patients experiencing overdoses in Burleigh and Morton counties in 2017, said operations manager Dan Schaefer.

Ambulance personnel are starting to see their numbers decrease as police and fire departments administer Narcan.

Schaefer said he is hopeful the increased awareness of the opioid epidemic will lead to getting individuals treatment before Narcan is needed.

Heartview Foundation also received funding from the grant program focused on supporting treatment and recovery. Executive Director Kurt Snyder said, as Narcan is more available and training is in place, there also needs to be additional work to connect those individuals with treatment.

Uselman said having Narcan available is one way to respond to the opioid crisis, but schools and other community stakeholders need to continue to work on prevention and education.

“I think together we can find a way to fight back and protect our young people as well as other people in the community,” Uselman said. “It is big and important work, and it’s going to take all of us.”

Reporter Jessica Holdman contributed to this report.

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