“Schools must be prepared and trained to administer Narcan, because the safety of our children far outweighs any political taboo. Needle exchange and overdose prevention sites must be equipped to offer free fentanyl testing strips and teach people who need them how to use this critical tool to prevent even more fatalities.”
New York is losing a silent war. The opioid crisis has hit a new high point, with overdoses claiming the lives of 2,500 people across our city in 2022. Leading the cause of these overdoses is fentanyl—a deadly opioid these drugs are often laced with, unbeknownst to the buyer.
What’s most alarming is that these drugs are infiltrating our schools: teen overdoses are on the rise, yet schools are not equipped with the resources or training needed to save students’ lives in the event of an overdose.
We must protect our students against this silent killer, which is why I’ve introduced legislation requiring New York City schools to stock naloxone, known commonly as Narcan. This medication can reverse the effects of an overdose, turning a potentially fatal incident into a second chance. Of our more than 540 public schools, none currently have Narcan on their premises, nor is staff trained on how to administer this life-saving antidote should it be needed.
I come from the Bronx, where I have seen and felt the ways in which opioids have devastated my community. My home district has some of the highest rates of opioid use and overdose across New York City. But where I’m from, these statistics are a lived reality. We all know of someone who has battled with addiction; many of us have known someone who has been the victim of an overdose.
The culprit in 4 out of 5 of these deaths is fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that is traditionally prescribed to terminal cancer patients. Recreationally, it is often combined with addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine without the user’s knowledge, creating a highly lethal mix. Black and brown communities, poor communities, the LGBTQ+ community, and young people have been hit hardest, with fentanyl-related overdose deaths steadily climbing.
But there is hope: nearly all deaths caused by fentanyl overdose are preventable.
New York has demonstrated its determination in tackling the high rates of opioid overdoses in our state. We have implemented harm reduction programs, such as our statewide network of 25 needle exchanges, which provide individuals with access to sterile syringes and other life-saving precautions.We have expanded access to medications that help prevent overdose deaths, such as buprenorphine and methadone. We have also begun to train community members to be able to administer naloxone in the case that opioid overdose is suspected.
But the tragic reality is that this monster is consuming our children. We must be proactive to keep them safe in the place where they spend the bulk of their time: school. My bill is a first step to ensure that all students in all city schools have access to life-saving opioid antagonists such as naloxone.
Protecting the lives of New Yorkers of all ages calls for addressing this crisis from every angle. In addition to increasing schools’ access to Narcan, I have introduced legislation requiring all city-run needle exchange and opioid overdose prevention sites to provide free fentanyl testing strips and training on how to use them.
This would fill a crucial gap left by a lack of fentanyl test strip locations across the city. Both the Bronx and Brooklyn only have a single location in the entire borough where individuals can access fentanyl test strips, despite the drug now being the most common cause of overdose deaths in New York City.
Schools must be prepared and trained to administer Narcan, because the safety of our children far outweighs any political taboo. Needle exchange and overdose prevention sites must be equipped to offer free fentanyl testing strips and teach people who need them how to use this critical tool to prevent even more fatalities.
As we continue to work to eradicate fentanyl from our communities and provide resources to decrease drug abuse, we must also be ready to step in with critical aid for our students and most vulnerable New Yorkers when they need it most.
Rafael Salamanca Jr. represents the South Bronx’s 17th District in the New York City Council.