House committee advances bill to require overdose-reversing drug in Alaska schools

By: Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon

The contents of an opioid overdose kit are displayed on a desk in the Alaska State Capitol on April 3, 2024. If House Bill 202 becomes law, such kits would be required at Alaska schools. (Photo by Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon

A proposal to require Alaska schools to keep opioid-overdose-reversing drugs on campus advanced out of the House Education Committee on Monday.

Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, has said House Bill 202 is intended to save student lives as opioid overdoses have begun to happen on Alaska campuses.

“These are drugs that are easily accessible, they’re easily administered, and they should be in everyone’s first-aid kit,” she said.

Originally, the bill would have required the drug to be present at all school-sponsored activities and on school buses, but the committee reduced those requirements.

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, proposed removing the bus requirement because many schools do not operate their own buses and would have to change their contract with the bus service to comply.

Additionally, the opioid-overdose-reversing drug naloxone does not function when frozen, so supplies kept on school buses may not be useful in winter months.

Several lawmakers, including Ruffridge, liked the idea of having the drug on buses, but most found it impractical to put into law.

Rep. Rebecca Himschoot, I-Sitka, proposed limiting the requirement to activities that take place on school grounds to reduce liability and staff burdens for schools.

“You might hold a school event at a place like a public library, a spelling bee or something like that,” she said. Her amendment means that a person trained in the use of an opioid-overdose-reversing drug would only have to be present for events held at the school.

The committee also added the specification that the state Department of Health would be responsible for furnishing the overdose-reversing drug.

The cost of the proposal has not yet been determined, but the Department of Health told the committee that opioid overdose reversal kits cost roughly $45.

An amendment that would require all school staff to watch a 15-minute training video about how to administer the nasal spray failed.

The bill initially specified that schools would use a naloxone nasal spray, but Ruffridge, a pharmacist, broadened the language so that the law would not have to be changed if a new type of opioid overdose reversal drug entered the market.

The committee also added language intended to make schools not liable for damages if the drug is ineffective or if the emergency kit has not been maintained.

The bill will be heard next by the House Health and Social Services Committee.