Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho (C) announced Thursday that all K-12 schools will receive naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho/Twitter
Sept. 23 (UPI) -- All K-12 schools in the Los Angeles School District will receive life-saving medicine that can reverse an opioid overdose, officials said following a series of overdoses in the district.
Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent for the country's second largest school district, announced the deployment of naloxone Thursday, stating all schools will receive the medicine in the coming weeks at no cost to them or the district.
"We have an urgent crisis on our hands," he said in a statement. "Research shows that the availability of naloxone along with overdose education is effective at decreasing overdoses and death -- and will save lives.
"We will do everything in our power to ensure that not another student in our community is a victim to the growing opioid epidemic. Keeping students safe and healthy remains our highest priority."
The announcement came after one student died and another was hospitalized on Sept. 13 after experiencing overdoses at Bernstein High School, located in Hollywood.
Police said the students had purchased what they believed were Percocet pills from Lexington Park. Federal authorities have repeatedly warned the public about the increase in counterfeit pills on U.S. streets.
Police have said that it is common for drug dealers to lace these pills with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine and which has been fueling the ongoing overdose epidemic.
In July, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said federal agents in California had seized some 1 million counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl. With a street value of between $15-20 million, it was the largest-ever fentanyl bust in the Golden State.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and its analogs, increased 56% from 2019 to 2020.
The Los Angeles Unified District, which serves more than 600,000 students at some 1,000 schools, said that it is also implementing a safety task force, peer-to-peer counseling and extensive Family Academy programming in the coming months to prevent overdoses before they occur.
"The opioid epidemic is a community crisis, and today Los Angeles Unified is taking concrete action to protect our students -- both by making naloxone readily available and through proactive education and support," Board President Kelly Gonez said. "Our board and superintendent are committed to doing everything we can to ensure student safety on our campuses and in our communities."