Students push bill to bring overdose-reversal drug to all schools
Last updated 1/22/2024 at 9:43am
Concerned about drug overdoses among teenagers, Lake Washington High School seniors Theodore Meek, Joanna Lymberis, Olivia Milstein, Sophia Lymberis and Reilly Jones transformed a school assignment into a bill aimed at making opioid-reversal medication available in high schools.
"The first conversation we had was, we're gonna get this passed," Sofia Lymberis said.
Narcan, the commercial name for naloxone, is already available in Washington schools with student populations of 2,000 or more. The new legislation spearheaded by the students, Senate Bill 5804, extends the drug availability to include all K-12 public and charter schools across the state.
The bill requires all school districts to obtain and maintain at least one dose of opioid-overdose-reversal medication. Schools also are directed to develop an overdose policy.
The Lake Washington students were placed together as a group based on their shared interest.
"We really just wanted to make a change, to make an effect within the state and save kids' lives rather than just trying to get an A," Jones said.
Narcan saved 42 lives in schools in Washington during the 2022-23 school year. When an overdose occurs, minutes matter.
"In the time that it takes for an ambulance to get somewhere, a drug overdose can take someone's life in anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes," said Sophia Lymberis.
Joanna Lymberis said the legislation wouldn't directly impact Lake Washington High School. She knows exactly where the drug, which is administered as a nasal spray, is kept in her school.
"We are a more progressive district. We tend to have the money for something like this," Joanna Lymberis said. "Naloxone is only $50 for a bag per school, meaning it is incredibly affordable."
Milstein's parents posed a question that resonates with many concerned parents: Does the availability of Narcan lead to an increase in drug use?
According to a 2023 study from the University of Cincinnati, Narcan availability does not increase drug use. "I think everyone feels like a life-saving drug is important to have everywhere," Milstein said. "Once people realize it does not increase drug use, I have yet to hear any other concerns."
The students' passion for the bill led them to present it to Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, who became the prime sponsor.
"This is a smart, strategic and needed bill during this time in our state's history. The fiscal note will be negligible," Kuderer said.
Milstein said the group was anxiously passing around a pen before they testified, deleting sentences in an attempt to trim down their testimonies.
"As a state it is inexcusable that we have the resources to give children another chance at life, but do not yet have the legislation to ensure that our students, my classmates, are protected," Sophia Lymberis told the committee members.
"We know this topic so well," Joanna Lymberis said. "When you are testifying about something you believe in deeply and worked so hard on, it's just exciting."
Meek's mother, a school nurse, helped brainstorm ideas to advance the bill, popping into his room late at night to share thoughts.
"We want to make sure something we started gets carried all the way through," Milstein said.
Sophia Lymberis intends to pursue a career in law.
"You feel so powerless," she said. "I'm 15, I'm 16, what can I do? How can I make a difference? I feel like all I can do is doom-scroll through Instagram and complain about the state of the world to my parents."
Sophia Lymberis, currently in her local youth council, encourages other students to engage in civic activities. The experience of influencing legislation made the students realize that they can effect change without being eligible to vote.
"As a woman, as a female, it is really special to go up there and share your voice and feel so supported by the people around you," Sophia Lymberis said. "To be aware of your place in the world is something that can be really self-actualizing and give you a lot of personal empowerment."