In A Tennessee Town, The Opioid Crisis Is So Bad That Children Are Being Taught How To Administer Narcan

The opioid crisis -- an epidemic of addiction to powerful prescription painkillers -- is so bad in one Tennessee town that children as young as 7-years-old are being taught to administer Narcan, The New York Times reports. Narcan is the trade name of Naxalone, a medicine that, if administered in time, can save the life of someone who has overdosed on opioids.

A nationwide problem, the opioid crisis is hitting Appalachia the hardest, according to Nashville drug- and alcohol-treatment clinic Cumberland Heights. Poverty, social isolation, high unemployment rates and low access to care combine to make addiction and mortality rates from opioids significantly higher in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and other states.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Elizabethton, Tennessee, where schoolchildren are being taught how to administer an antidote in the case of all-too-common overdoses.

Drug prevention educator Jilian Reece's lesson treats this kind of teaching like a game. About a dozen kids are gathered up at a library where they take part in a suspenseful role-playing experiment. The kids role-play a situation in which a restaurant worker who is a victim of heroin laced with fentanyl has been found dead in a freezer.

The children are then shown how to administer Narcan, which is administered via a squirt through the nose.

"It's just like a little squirt gun," Reece said about the applicator.

a demo pack of narcan
Flickr | Governor Tom Wolf

After their lesson, the kids are given a bag containing two doses of the medicine to take home. Narcan/Naxalone does not have any effect on a person who is not currently suffering from an opiate overdose so there is no danger of the children suffering any ill effects if accidentally ingested, according to Harm Reduction Coalition.

One of the children present for the lesson that day, 7-year-old Nash Kitchens, is all to familiar with the opioid crisis. One of his relatives suffers with a dependence on these drugs.

In Carter County, where 56,000 people live in a mix of rural towns and small cities, 60 people have died from opioid overdoses since 2014.

Efforts for getting Narcan into the hands of lay people who may be in a better position to help have been wildly successful. In addition to first responders, nearly 600 children and teenagers have possession of the medicine through the after-school programs and other community education events. Some have turned around and taught their peers how to use the medicine; others have come back for more, after having used their supply presumably on friends, neighbors, or loved ones who have overdosed.