Melissa Crew nearly lost her daughter to a heroin overdose.
It was almost four years ago. Her daughter, Gia, began using heroin at the age of 17.
“She came down from upstairs and said she wasn’t feeling good. She had stomach cramps and was moaning. I asked her, ‘Did you use today?’ and she said, ‘No, mom, I didn’t, I didn’t.’ And then I saw red and blue lines on her face,” Crew said. “I called 911 but I knew they couldn’t get there in time so I put her in the car and drove to meet them.”
Once Crew — who was in Woodinville at the time but now lives in Kirkland — met up with the paramedics, her daughter was dead. She was revived with Narcan.
An opioid antagonist
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan or Evzio, is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose.
It is an opioid antagonist — meaning it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids. The medication can be injected into the skin, but is most commonly used in its nasal spray form. It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioids.
There is a four-minute time period to address an opioid overdose.
“I know lots of stories of people who weren’t able to make it,” Crew said. “Those stories could have changed if Narcan could be in schools.”
‘I was shook inside’
Corina Pfeil, a Kenmore parent, has dedicated the past three years to do just that — get Narcan in schools.
While on a new-student tour of Inglemoor High School in 2016, Pfeil said the principal at the time said a student was found with heroin in one of the school’s gender neutral bathrooms a previous year.
“I was shocked that heroin was here,” she said. Heroin is scary…I was shook inside.”
According to the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey, seven percent of 10th and 12th graders reported misusing prescription drugs. Three percent reported having used heroin.
“These percentages mean that in 2018, about 2,500 Washington State 12th graders had tried heroin at least once in their lifetime and even more (about 3,500) use painkillers to get high in any given month,” according to the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey.
“Everybody talks about the opioid crisis but they think it only applies to people who are homeless or criminals,” Crew said.
Crew said she feels frustrated by the lack of knowledge there is around opioid use.
“It can affect anyone. People look at me like I shouldn’t have a kid on heroin because we don’t fit their ideas of what an addict’s family looks like,” Crew said. “It shouldn’t even be a question — of course we should have Narcan in schools.”
Crew said her family is blessed.
“We got to have a happy ending. Just think, so many other moms could have that same happy ending,” she said. “It gives them a second chance at life. Narcan can keep these kids alive enough to get them help.”
Through this revelation, Pfeil was curious to learn how many students use opiates and if schools were prepared to address an overdose onsite.
Washington state does not specifically track opioid overdoses that occur at public schools, and the laws around Narcan in schools have been restricted until now.
The company that produces Narcan, Adapt Pharma, has offered free doses of the opioid-reversal medication to high schools and colleges nationwide. However, for the past several years, the laws around Narcan use in Washington schools required written permission from a parent, as well as a doctor’s prescription, to give a student a dose.
“The law stopped at nurses,” Pfeil said. “You know, some schools don’t even have full-time nurses.”
Thus began Pfeil’s journey to create her citizen action grassroots bill, known as HB 1039. This bill was signed under Gov. Jay Inslee’s larger opioid treatment bill in May.
HB 1039 concerns opioid overdose medication at K-12 schools and higher education institutions. The passing of the bill ensures high schools in districts with more than 2,000 students will be required to obtain and store Narcan. The bill will go into effect at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
From bill to fulfilled promise
Pfeil hit several roadblocks throughout her journey to have HB 1039 passed, one of which included having the bill time out.
“I was almost in tears, I thought it was over,” she said. “There were so many minefields. I had to navigate around them and teach myself how to do everything.”
Through the support of friends, families, the community and local leaders, she said she knew she had to keep going. To continue her motivation, Pfeil would revisit a childhood educational video.
“I kept coming back to the ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ video of ‘I’m Just a Bill,’” she said with a laugh. “It’s supposed to be something that everyone should be able to do. While the process is a bit harder than the song depicts, it is basically how a bill gets passed. If other people could do it, I knew I could do it.”
Now that the bill is passed, Pfeil said she feels like she has fulfilled the promise she made three years ago.
“I made a promise to follow this through and nothing was going to stop me,” she said.