With fentanyl overdoses on the rise, head of drug task force pushes for Narcan in all Hawaii classrooms

With fentanyl overdoses on the rise, the head of Hawaii’s federal drug task force is pushing for Narcan to be placed in every classroom in the state.
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 3:16 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 4, 2022 at 5:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With fentanyl overdoses on the rise, the head of Hawaii’s federal drug task force is pushing for Narcan to be placed in every classroom in the state.

The drug comes in the form of a nasal spray and is used to reverse an opioid overdose.

Currently, only a fraction of Hawaii’s schools are armed with the antidote.

According to the state Department of Education, Hawaii Keiki Nurses carry Narcan in their emergency medication bag. However, those nurses aren’t on the vast majority of school campuses.

These days, with so many drugs laced with fentanyl, one bad decision could kill you.

“I had stopped breathing,” said Earl Thronas Jr. The 28-year-old doesn’t even remember overdosing.

“And that was the scariest part,” he said. “We took two hits. I thought I fell asleep.”

Three minutes later, Thronas said, “My lips had turned blue. And my skin was becoming pale already.

“Luckily I had someone near me who had Narcan.”

The nasal spray is used to stop an opioid overdose.

Gary Yabuta, executive director of Hawaii’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, says he wants to see it widely distributed in schools. “Every 12-year-old and above should know what fentanyl is,” he said.

“And they should know what Narcan is. That’s the reality.”

He says nowadays, just about any drug can be laced with fentanyl, including colorful powders and pills.

“Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin,” said Yabuta. “They might be thinking it’s just another candy. They might be thinking it’s cocaine. They have no idea what they’re taking.”

To date, the DOE says there have been no fentanyl overdoses reported on its school property and that the drug has also never been confiscated on any campus. But drug experts say it’s only a matter of time.

“Any youth. Any young adult is vulnerable,” Yabuta said. “Because it’s appealing. And it’s a trend.”

HNN asked the DOE if having Narcan in every classroom is something it’s considering. A spokesperson responded that, “The department is seeking guidance from the state Attorney General’s Office on this.”

HNN confirmed less than 20% of Hawaii’s public schools currently have Narcan on campus.

Hawaii Keiki Nurses ― the only ones who carry it ― mostly work at campuses on Oahu. There are 54 of the professionals statewide; meanwhile, Hawaii has 295 public schools.

“It’s literally life or death,” said Thronas. A year and a half after fentanyl nearly took his life, Thronas is clean from drugs and working towards becoming a certified substance abuse counselor.

“Speaking from experience the first time I did drugs, most of the time was in school,” he said. “Or from school relationships. Friendships.”

He’s also urging the DOE to act now, before it’s too late.

“If they don’t have it in the school, it’s going to be a child that passes away,” Thronas said.

Yabuta says there are grants that will cover the cost of Narcan for organizations that work with children.