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Overdose-reversal drug in spotlight after day care death

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-09-27 11:59

A third person has been arrested in connection with the New York City day care center where a 1-year-old boy died after being exposed to fentanyl.

Renny Antonio Parra Paredes, 38, was arrested on Saturday. He appeared in federal court in Lower Manhattan on Monday, where he was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death.

In a criminal complaint, Paredes and his alleged co-conspirators, Grei Mendez and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, were accused of using the day care center in the Bronx to secretly stash drugs — including a kilo of fentanyl — on children's play mats.

Authorities told ABC News that the husband of the owner of the day care, Felix Herrera Garcia, was arrested in Mexico on Tuesday while on a bus in Sinaloa.

Garcia had allegedly been seen on surveillance running away from the day care center with plastic bags that police said could have contained fentanyl, as the children were exposed to the drug.

Federal prosecutors said that large quantities of the narcotic were stored under a trap floor in a room where the children slept, learned and played.

Otoniel Feliz, the grieving father of Nicholas Dominici, the 1-year-old who died, told PIX11 News: "Nothing will give me back our son. Not all the gold in the world will make up for his life. For a parent, the life of a child is priceless."

Three other children who attended the day care, an 8-month-old girl and two, 2-year-old boys were taken to a hospital and treated with naloxone, or its trade name Narcan, an overdose-reversal drug. The children had suffered acute opioid intoxication.

It has not been confirmed if naloxone was found inside the day care. Administered in a nasal mist, it quickly combats the effects of drugs like fentanyl, heroin and oxycodone by blocking brain receptors that respond to drugs.

Since March, Narcan has been available for purchase over the counter, without a prescription, after it was given approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. A kit with two doses of Narcan can cost $140.

Several organizations including the American Medical Association, the United Federation of Teachers and the National Association of School Nurses believe that all schools should stock naloxone.

"We are facing a national opioid crisis, and it's affecting our young people at an alarming rate," Dr Bobby Mukkamala, chair of the American Medical Association's Substance Use and Pain care task force said in a statement. "We must destigmatize substance-use disorders and treat naloxone as a lifesaving tool."

Since 2016, the National Association of School Nurses has advocated for schools to stock naloxone. The association provides a free toolkit on its website for teachers on how to use the drug.

In 2017, Michigan became the first state to pass a law to allow naloxone in schools.

Thirty states currently allow for naloxone to be used in K-12 schools, data from the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association shows. Rhode Island is the only state that requires schools to keep naloxone in stock.

The increased use of naloxone comes as 518 teenagers died from a drug overdose every year from 2010 to 2019, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of teens who died from a drug overdose nearly doubled to 954 deaths. In 2021, the number rose to 1,146, according to research in the medical journal JAMA.

Dr Karen L. Cassiday, past president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America told China Daily: "The [COVID-19] pandemic had several unique characteristics that lent themselves to triggering … substance abuse."

In 2021, fentanyl was involved in 80 percent of the 2,668 overdose deaths in New York City, according to the Health Department. At least 72 people age 15 to 24 died from opioid use.

But New York City public schools, the largest school district in the nation, did not previously stock naloxone. Staff were only instructed to call 911.

In June, the New York City Department of Education confirmed that public schools now stock the drug, and nurses were being trained how to use it. Schools in other parts of the state, including Long Island, had the drug available in recent years.

Last fall, Denver began to stock naloxone in all of its public schools. By December, five teenage students suffered an overdose at John F. Kennedy High School in the parking lot. A spokesperson for Denver Public Schools said that all were treated. He declined to comment further.

In 2022, the Los Angeles Unified School District began to stock the drug and train staff on how to use it.

Last September, a child at an LA school died in a restroom after she and her friends took what they thought were Percocet pills. The schoolchildren did not know that the pills had been laced with fentanyl, LA police said.

Other school districts that stock naloxone include Des Moines, Iowa; the Hays Consolidated Independent School District in Kyle, Texas, and Montgomery County, Maryland.

"An overdose tragedy can be reversed if quick action is taken with these safe and effective medications like naloxone," said Dr Mukkamala. "Allowing teachers and students to carry these medications is a common sense decision and will no doubt result in young lives saved."

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