In the midst of front page news about the coronavirus, the Weinstein convictions, the ups and downs of competitors to capture the Democratic presidential nomination, I bet you missed the shocking news that children as young as 6 years old are being taught how to administer Narcan to save their mother or father from an overdose.
Carter County Tennessee, next to North Carolina, is dealing with the ravages of opioid addiction. Nearly 60 people have died from opioid overdoses since 2014. That year 8.1 million painkiller prescriptions were written in Tenn., more than the state’s entire population of about 6.5 million. County health officials have embraced a radical strategy teaching children as young as 6 how to reverse an overdose.
Just imagine your own son or daughter (or grandson or granddaughter) going off to 1st grade to learn how to read and write in addition to which they are being taught how to use Narcan’s nasal spray to revive a dying relative.
In the last 3 years, Carter County’s drug prevention coalition has given Narcan training to an estimated 600 young children and teenagers in after-school programs, babysitting classes and vaping-cessation courses in spite of the fact that this is a region in the Bible Belt where many adults look upon addiction as a sin rather than an illness.
With 1st and 2nd graders Sherry Barnett, the regional overdose specialist for the state of Tenn., presents a picture to the children of opioids, explains that if a person takes too much they can fall asleep and stop breathing. She then shows the kids how to “open, insert, squirt” the Narcan spray, letting each child push the plunger. The children are also taught to dial 911. For adolescents, the training includes destigmatizing drug use as well as reversing overdoses.
It is horrific that this is what we have come to in this country where babies are being trained to confront their parents’ addiction, plead for them to go into recovery and save their lives. These babies are being robbed of their childhood as we count on them to function as the adults in room.
Part of the high rate of addiction in this county is because of a lack of addiction treatment resources. People in Carter County are limited to researching drug treatment centers on the computers of Elizabethan Public Library, the only source of free public Wi-Fi in the county.
Health workers have received strong opposition from residents, school boards and police who feel that the training is inappropriate for children but Jilian Reece, a drug prevention educator says, “I’d rather a kid should go through the trauma of giving Narcan than see their parent die.”
The children are being given an early lesson in brain science as well as practical tools. Nora Blohn, 8, whose father is an ER nurse said that opioids “Smash” the brain’s nerve receptors. One child said, “Drugs are bad things that could kill you. Now I know how to use it (Narcan). I feel good because I like helping people in danger.” In a community where drug use and stigma are rampant, several parents hope the class teaches their children to be less judgmental of addiction. One mother said, “Not only to know why we don’t want them to do drugs but why we still love the people that do.”
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