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'You're trying to prevent a death': All Cass County middle, high schools to have Narcan kits for opioid overdoses

Helmut Schmidt / The Forum1 / 4
Jeff Schatz, superintendent for the Fargo School District. (Forum File Photo)2 / 4
Morgan Forness, superintendent of the Central Cass School District (Forum File Photo)3 / 4
Cory Steiner, superintendent of the Northern Cass School District in Hunter, N.D. (Forum File Photo)4 / 4

FARGO—All public and private high schools and middle schools in Cass County will soon have on their campuses Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

The effort will be formally announced at a news conference Thursday morning at Fargo Cass Public Health in south Fargo.

Training on use of the kits and rescue breathing is underway and should be completed for all schools by Jan. 1, said FCPH community health educator Melissa Markegard.

School officials emphasize that having the kits in the schools doesn't mean they have opioid use problems, but it is a proactive move given the number of people that enter the schools daily and the mobility of students in and around the Fargo-Moorhead area.

"We think it's a great idea," said Cory Steiner, superintendent of Northern Cass School in Hunter.

"We have all kinds of different people coming into our schools every day. If on any given day we can prevent a tragedy, we need to do that," Steiner said.

About eight teachers, administrators and staff at Northern Cass were trained Tuesday, Nov. 14, Steiner said. The school's Narcan kit will be placed in the commons area near an automated external defibrillator, Steiner said.

Each of the $80 rescue kits has a printed card with directions for use, two doses of Narcan, a safe shield for rescue breathing, and disposable gloves, Markegard said.

It's not uncommon for two doses of Narcan to be needed to stop an overdose from opioids, Markegard said, though sometimes powerful drug doses may require three or four doses of Narcan.

West Fargo School District has received 10 kits.

Two kits will be placed at each Liberty and Cheney middle schools, Sheyenne and West Fargo high schools, and the Community High School, West Fargo spokeswoman Heather Konschak said in an email.

She said two training sessions were held for staff, one last week and one Wednesday.

"Schools are community gathering points, and having life-saving measures like AEDs, epi-pens, and now Narcan is our responsibility to the public," Konschak said.

No reported opioid deaths of students, faculty or community members have occurred in the schools, FCPH said in a news release.

However, the F-M area, like other parts of the country, has seen opioid use and overdoses rise.

In 2016, F-M Ambulance personnel administered naloxone (Narcan) 99 times. The Fargo Fire Department administered naloxone 16 times from July to December 2016.

The Cass County coroner's office reported 31 opioid overdose deaths in 2016. As of September this year, there have been 12 opioid overdose deaths.

Morgan Forness, superintendent of the Central Cass School District in Casselton, expects a dozen district employees will be trained to administer Narcan.

"We understood why it came to the schools, because you know we have access to virtually all of the students for much of the day," Forness said.

"I guess the one thing I do appreciate is the conversation was meant to be proactive rather than reactive, so that you're not dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy. You're trying to prevent a death," Forness said.

Jeff Schatz, superintendent of Fargo's public schools, said training is now being set up for the school district.

Schatz said the district wants to be prepared to give aid until emergency responders show up.

"It's a simple administration. It's safe. And it really is just like we do with other things in our schools," Schatz said.

"We are a reflection of our community," Schatz said. "We just want to be prepared."

The effort is being funded by a State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis grant from the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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