Opioid overdoses can create serious health risks for adolescents, the most serious — death.
While the Faribault school district has no reported cases of opioid overdoses, the facilities will soon have a plan in place in case the problem ever arises. Faribault Middle and High schools will each have naloxone nasal spray to store on campus for emergency situations. Naloxone, or Narcan, is a medication that combats potential life-threatening effectors of opioid overdoses. The spray wears off in 30 to 90 minutes and has no effect on those who have not overdosed, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition.
In the most recent Minnesota Student Survey from the Faribault district, conducted in 2019, no students surveyed — in eighth, ninth and 11th — reported taking prescription drugs without a doctor's prescription in the prior 30 days. But according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over half of teens and young adults between 15 and 24 who died from a drug overdose in 2015 were using opioids — that’s over 2,100 deaths. In 2018, approximately 10.3 million individuals 12 and older abused opioids.
In Minnesota specifically, opioid-related deaths peaked at 422 in 2017 but dropped to 343 in 2018, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
During a virtual School Board meeting Monday, Director of Special Services Rob Dehnert and and licensed school nurse Julia Jelen presented information on opioid use in young adults and the procedure of using naloxone as a first response treatment for overdoses.
Opioids attach to brain receptors to work as pain relievers, but when used improperly, increasing the dose can impose serious health risks. According to Dehnert and Jelen’s research, opioid abuse can affect the user’s breathing to the point of oxygen starvation. Essential organs like the heart and brain may eventually shut down, and after three to five minutes without oxygen, brain damage occurs and death results not long after, report the Harm Reduction Coalition.
The Minnesota Department of Health, Rice County Department of Health or a licensed health care provider will provide the training for nursing staff at each location. Coaches, guidance counselors, custodians and teachers may also participate in training so each department has a trained representative. Any nurse or teacher trained to administer the naloxone may do so in the event of opioid-related overdoses that happen on campus, whether the victim is a student or staff member. Trained staff will know where the naloxone spray is stored for easy access.
Jelen said RAAN (Rural AIDS Action Network) of Mankato is subsidizing the medication and training at cost to the district, for the sake of making the product accessible in the community. The spray has a one-year shelf life, and nurses are already aware of the disposal process via safety box.
The Faribault Area Learning Center also plans to implement the naloxone procedure, said Jelen, and elementary schools may eventually acquire the spray as well. In more urbanized areas, Jelen explained that elementary schools have the medication on hand for the sake of employees as well as parents, who may overdose before picking up their children.
“Narcan has come up as one of these miracle drugs that save lives,” said Board member Jason Engbrecht. “It seems like a no brainer from a student safety standpoint. If it happens even once, it can save a life, so I think this is a great thing to do.”
For those with a passion about supporting children to grow and healthy, well-adjusted adults, halting interactions between with youngsters they’ve mentored has been difficult.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the national Big Brothers Big Sisters organization stopped the interaction of mentors – or ‘Bigs’ – and their mentees – or ‘Littles’ – for an unknown amount of time. Michelle Redman, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota executive director, said that matches are itching to be together again, but that until they hear more from the national organization everyone will have to simply sit tight.
In the meantime, Redman said that the Bigs want to do whatever they can to support their Littles during an unprecedented point in history. With everything today’s youth are facing, Redman said that the coronavirus pandemic is presenting a whole new set of challenges, making mentoring more important than ever.
“We have been working on this project called ‘Growing Greatness’ and have been looking for ways to help the kids in our program with the distance learning,” Redman said. “We reached out to the school district and they said that they don’t actually need tutors or academic help right now, but that the biggest help they need is good mental health support. “
Redman said that having an extra support system can be crucial for youth during a time of crisis, and that mentors can help youth with positive mental health by checking in to see how they are coping with stress associated with the pandemic. The Growing Greatness project evolved into showing the youth involved in BBBS that they are important and loved, even during social distancing and isolation.
On Thursday and Friday, BBBS staff members, Bigs, and board members delivered 675 potted flowers to every child signed up for the program – including those on the waiting list to be matched with a mentor. The flowers were donated by Donahue’s Greenhouse in Faribault, and Turtle Creek Nursery and Landscaping, and Souba Greenhouse and Nursery, both in Owatonna.
“It is important for our youth to know that they have people outside of their family that are there for them, and we want to make sure that they feel supported during this difficult time,” Redman said, adding that words of affirmation were also attached to the plant. “If our flower and words can brighten their day, then I call that a success.”
A poem was also included among the words of affirmation which reads “Just a little something to brighten up your day. A promise we’ll get through this and all will be okay. So even if for now, we have to be apart. Know that we are here for you and you are in our hearts.”
The flowers were delivered to Littles, as well as their siblings, in Steele, Rice, Dodge and Waseca counties.
Wednesday evening, Gov. Tim Walz announced that he would allow his Stay at Home order to expire but would extend his Peacetime State of Emergency Declaration to June 12.
Just two days later, Minnesota’s Senate passed a bill that would limit the executive branch’s authority. Co-sponsored by Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, the bill would require that the governor seek the legislature’s approval every 30 days to extend a peacetime emergency.
Jasinski’s bill passed nearly along party lines, with support from every Republican senator but just one DFLer, Kent Eken of Twin Lakes. Under the current statute, the governor can extend the resolution indefinitely every 30 days with the consent of the state’s executive council. The council includes all five statewide officeholders — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor. Currently, all five offices are held by DFLers, as is the state House of Representatives.
The legislature could choose to end a peacetime emergency that has lasted longer than 30 days. However, if the legislature declines to act, the power to extend remains within the executive branch indefinitely.
While DFLers have remained united behind the governor’s approach, Republicans have been increasingly critical. Jasinski, an assistant Senate Majority Leader, said that the governor has not adequately included the legislature in his decision making process.
“When I talk to people across the district, they ask, ‘why can’t you do anything? It’s frustrating,” Jasinski said. “He continues to make those decisions by himself.”
Jasinski and other Republicans have accused the governor not only of making too many unilateral decisions, but of choosing to withhold an excessive amount of the information he uses to guide his day to day decision making process. If the governor needed to seek the legislature’s authority to extend the emergency, Jasinski said the Senate would have significantly more input and influence. He portrayed the bill as simply restoring key checks and balances to state government.
“We represent people all across the state for a reason — to bring their voice to the capitol,” Jasinski said. “The governor is just one person, and he can’t be everywhere in the state.”
Jasinski said that at first, even Republican legislators supported the governor’s initial decision to enact the Stay at Home Order. However, Jasinski has been a strong proponent of easing restrictions on businesses, and applauded the Walz’s decision to allow the order to expire.
Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, opposes Jasinski’s bill, viewing it as an attempt to undermine the governor’s executive authority. With the projected COVID-19 peak still months away, Lippert says it’s too soon to be stripping the governor of his executive authority.
“I think the governor has been acting carefully and thoughtfully in the best interests of Minnesotans, and trying to save lives,” he said. “We need the executive branch to be able to act decisively right now, because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and face unprecedented challenges.”
While earlier restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, salons and other public places remain in effect, Walz’s most recent decision will allow many nonessential businesses to reopen with proper social distancing guidelines.
That wasn’t enough to satisfy the New House Republican Caucus. The staunchly conservative four member group, which includes local Reps. Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa, and Jeremy Munson, of Lake Crystal, has been consistent and outspoken in its criticism of the governor’s use of executive powers.
“Governor Walz’s decision to extend the peacetime emergency order is foolhardy, dictatorial and self-centered,” the caucus said in a statement. “Clearly, the governor still believes he has the almighty authority to suspend our God-given rights.”
On the other hand, Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson welcomed the decision to allow businesses to reopen. Johnson said that while keeping customers safe will be a challenge for local businesses, he’s confident they are up to the challenge.
“We’re certainly glad that the handcuffs are being taken off our businesses,” he said. “We know they don’t want any (public health) problems to arise, and they are prepared to meet the challenge. By nature, entrepreneurs are up to meeting challenges.”
In April, Jasinski responded to the decision by the Walz Administration and Department of Employment and Economic Development to ease some restrictions on businesses by calling for much more significant action.
“There are still countless businesses whose livelihoods are in jeopardy for no reason,” he said in a press release. “If a business can find a way to safely operate, with minimal customer interaction and while maintaining safe social distancing practices, then that business should be able to do so.”
On Monday, the Senate passed a bill to allow many small businesses to reopen, provided they follow guidelines established by the Minnesota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the bill was primarily backed by Republicans, DFL unity on the issue cracked, with four of the party’s Senators crossing party lines to vote for it: Eken, John Hoffman ,of Champlin, Dan Sparks, of Austin, and David Tomassoni ,of Chisholm.
On Tuesday, Minnesota’s Republican members of Congress weighed in. In a joint letter, Reps. Jim Hagedorn, Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber urged Walz to allow the Stay at Home order to expire and allow small businesses to reopen.
“Over the last week, you have repeatedly stated that you have allowed about 90 percent of Minnesota’s workforce and businesses to reopen. Let’s trust the final 10 percent,” they wrote. “Every employer should be given the opportunity to safely and responsibly resume operations in some form or fashion.”