Young Kids Now Learning To Administer Naloxone In Heroin-Ravaged Kentucky

By McCarton Ackerman 06/15/16

As communities begin to embrace efforts to teach kids to administer naloxone, some wonder if it is appropriate to expose them to the dangers of drug use.

Young Kids Now Learning To Administer Naloxone In Heroin-Ravaged Kentucky

More people across the country are being trained on how to use the opioid overdose reversal antidote known as naloxone—but in Kentucky, these individuals haven’t even reached their pre-teen years.

Audrey Stepp, 9, insisted on learning how to administer the lifesaving drug because her 26-year-old brother, Sammy, has been struggling with heroin addiction for over a decade. She practices filling and using the syringe on a stuffed animal. Although she didn’t know what the word “sober” meant until recently, she already knows what an overdose would look like, explaining to NBC News that “their fingernails and their lips would be blue, and they wouldn't wake up.”

Although some people question exposing children so young to the dangers of drug use, Audrey and Sammy’s mother, Jennifer Punkin-Stepp, think it’s a far more practical solution than the alternative.

“If a kid could save somebody, why not?” Punkin-Stepp told NBC. “Instead of having the nightmare of watching somebody die.”

Entire communities have rallied around similar efforts in recent months. Punkin-Stepp, a resident of Bullitt County in Kentucky and the leader of her community Opioid Addiction Team, hosted a local workshop last November to teach kids how to administer naloxone. She even received free kits from Evzio, which manufactures naloxone-administering devices, for the event. 

"This is telling them, if you do find a brother, sister, mother, uncle, not breathing, here's something that you can do about it," said Dr. Mina "Mike" Kalfas, a certified addiction expert in Northern Kentucky. "These kids are realizing that drugs can kill them. This is part of an environment where they might find someone dead." In Northern Kentucky, one in three adults knows someone who uses heroin

In an ABC News special which aired in March, "Breaking Point: Heroin in America," cameras showed a middle school class in Manchester, New Hampshire, learning how to administer naloxone. The seminar was part of an overall presentation on the dangers of heroin that has become part of the curriculum in Manchester schools.

"Five years ago, I wasn't talking to 18-year-old (students) about this. I wasn't talking to anybody about it,” said Chris Hickey, the Emergency Medical Services training officer for the Manchester Fire Department, to 20/20. “But it's such a problem now that I wouldn't be doing my job if we didn't try and help kids as early as we can."

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.