Pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. (AP File/Patrick Sison)

Pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. (AP File/Patrick Sison)

School bus drivers learn to spot student opioid abuse

Drivers from Snohomish County and beyond are trained to recognize the signs of drug overdoses.

LYNNWOOD — The duties of a school bus driver are more than mastering mirrors or navigating suburban neighborhoods and winding country roads amid the chatter of children.

Bus drivers often shuttle the same kids for many years. They can build a rapport and be another set of eyes looking out for their welfare.

“These kids become our kids,” said Jonna Critchett, who trains bus drivers for the Monroe School District.

The bus drivers’ job is always evolving. In a sign of the times, drivers from south Snohomish County to near the Canadian border listened intently during a training session Saturday on what to look out for when someone is overdosing on opioids. The speaker went down a checklist of symptoms: pale, clammy skin, blue lips, slow heartbeat, infrequent breaths or no breaths at all.

By a show of hands, the bus drivers clearly understood opioid abuse is a growing reality across the country and close to home. The fact that they were hearing about it is a reminder of the challenges the drugs pose to people of all ages. In 2016, 2,390 patients were treated at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett for problems with opioids or narcotics. Over a period ending in 2016, 63 percent of 6,932 patients treated for opioid or narcotic problems were under 30.

Opioids, which include heroin and painkillers such as oxycodone, killed roughly 35,000 Americans in 2015.

They come in many forms, from street-buy bindles of heroin to prescription drugs found in home medicine cabinets.

Amy Austin is what’s called an opioid outreach specialist for Snohomish County. Some days, she ventures out with law officers to homeless camps, where she wears thick boots to protect her from used heroin needles underfoot. She talks with people in need of treatment and with others, such as the bus drivers Saturday, who might be in a position to make a difference with more knowledge.

A week ago, Austin was training nurses in the Lake Stevens School District on how to use Naloxone to block the effects of opioids, especially in an overdose. Nurses from the Edmonds School District also are on her calendar. Naloxone, sometimes sold under the brand name Narcan, can be given as a nasal spray.

Saturday’s session with bus drivers didn’t include Naloxone training. It was more a time to go over a watch list and to field questions.

Recognition and prevention were dominant themes.

“There are a lot of kids out there where … opioids is a way for them to escape the pain they don’t want to feel,” Austin said.

And, she said, “Home medicine cabinets are the new drug dealer for children.”

Austin knows the challenges ahead. She sees hope, even in some of the addicts she encounters in the camps.

“Lives are being changed in this process,” she said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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