HARTFORD, Conn. — The death of a 13-year-old Hartford boy who overdosed on fentanyl last week at the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy is spurring new calls to stock school nurses’ offices with naloxone, a powerful tool to treat overdoses.
A spokesman for Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said Sunday that the mayor and other city leaders are looking at ways to prevent a similar tragedy. That includes providing wider access to naloxone or Narcan, the brand name for the nasal spray version of the injectable drug that can revive overdose victims in a matter of minutes.
“There’s a lot that we’re discussing in terms of how we can prevent something like this from happening again,” said Akash Kaza, the mayor’s communications director. “We are engaging in those conversations with school, police and the [public] health team.”
Josh Michtom, a member of the Hartford City Council, said he is planning to propose making the overdose-reversal drug available at city schools, as well as libraries and other public buildings.
“In all of our city institutions, including our schools, the right folks should have training in administering Narcan and recognizing overdoses,” Michtom said.
Some states, including New Jersey and Rhode Island, require naloxone to be available in every public and private school building. Maryland began requiring public schools to carry naloxone and to educate students about the risk of opioid abuse in 2018.
In Connecticut, the decision is left up to individual school districts. Drug prevention experts say widespread access to Narcan, including in schools, will save lives.
“I’m not going to say this could have been prevented,” Mark Jenkins, executive director of the Connecticut Harm Reduction Alliance, said of the Hartford student’s death. “But it possibly could have been.”
The alliance has been working to make naloxone widely available since 2014. It has trained school personnel to administer the medication in various districts, including Windsor and West Hartford, as well as several private schools in the Hartford region.
Having the overdose-reversal drug available does not lead to an increase in drug use, Jenkins said.
“You have fire extinguishers in schools, but how often do you see a fire in schools?” Jenkins said. “We have to become proactive in making sure we have responses in case an overdose takes place because it’s a time-sensitive issue.”
According to the state Department of Public Health, 1,374 people died of a drug overdose in Connecticut in 2020, a 285% increase in less than a decade, and 85% of those deaths were caused by fentanyl.
The state does not have statistics on how many students overdose at school. Just 7.8% of the overall drug-related deaths were in people under 25.
But the death of the 13-year-old was distressing.
“We still have much to learn about the circumstances of this tragedy, and about how a child had access to such a shocking quantity of such deadly drugs,” Bronin said in a statement issued Saturday.
Michtom said his heart goes out to the student’s family. “If you would have asked me if fentanyl use was a big risk for middle school kids, I would have said no. Sniffing fentanyl is not where they start at that age.”
Police are continuing their investigation. The 13-year-old student, whose name is being withheld due to his age, collapsed at 10:30 a.m. Thursday during gym class at the magnet school.
A school nurse initiated CPR until fire department personnel arrived and took over, a fire official said. He was taken to Connecticut Children’s, where he died on Saturday.
Two other seventh graders were believed to be exposed to the drug and were also transported to the hospital, officials said. Both were released to their parents Thursday night, police said.
Investigators later found nearly 40 bags of fentanyl stashed in multiple locations within the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, in a search prompted by the student’s overdose.
“This tragic loss will raise many emotions, concerns and questions for our school community, especially our students,” Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, said in a letter to parents Sunday. “Our school and district crisis Intervention Team has already been assembled and will continue to help with the needs of students, parents and school personnel.”
School social workers will be available for students and their families. Clinical psychologists from Connecticut Children’s will also be on hand to provide emotional support by phone, Torres-Rodriguez said.