Should high school students be trained to administer Narcan for drug overdoses? Yes, say nearly half of Americans.

Here's what a new poll reveals about Amerians' views on drug education. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)
Here's what a new poll reveals about Amerians' views on drug education. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images) (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll is shedding light on Americans' attitudes about teaching children about drugs — and training teens to administer Narcan, the first over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In September, the treatment for opioid overdoses was rolled out to pharmacies and other retailers, where it sells for $44.99 for a pack of two devices.

The poll, which was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,636 U.S. adults interviewed online from Sept. 14-18, 2023, found that nearly half of Americans believe that high school students should be taught to administer Narcan as part of first aid training. A whopping 49% (51% among women and 47% among men) of respondents support Narcan training in high schools; 22% do not support it and 29% were not sure. Respondents who identified as either Hispanic, Democrat-leaning or age 65 and older were most likely to agree that students should know how to use Narcan.

But when it comes to drug education and younger children, respondents preferred a more conservative approach. When asked at what age students should first be taught in about the dangers of drugs, including opioids like fentanyl, 2% said "never." Sixth to eighth grade — junior high for most U.S. students — was considered the most appropriate time to introduce drug education, according to 39% of respondents. Another 22% said third grade through fifth grade (roughly ages 8 to 11), 18% approved waiting until ninth grade or later and 6% supported drug education as early as kindergarten. Just 3% of those polled felt that kids should learn about drugs before kindergarten, and 9% said they weren't sure which age was best.

But experts have previously told Yahoo Life that parents should initiate conversations around substance abuse as “early as possible,” to quote Dr. Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani, a physician who works with those in recovery from substance abuse.

To that end, the Partnership to End Addiction offers scripts for parents to use with kids as young as 2. Lessons about not taking medicine that's not offered by a parent or doctor eventually evolve into more candid, age-appropriate discussions about things like vaping, alcohol and the effects and risks of various drugs.

“It's important to keep teaching [children] about the dangers of drug use, even after they are adults,” says Sadri-Azarbayejani, “Encourage them to make smart decisions and remain safe no matter what their circumstances may be.”

She also recommends approaching the conversation with a "nonjudgmental" tone, rather than leaning on lectures or scare tactics. Parents can ask their kids what they already know about drugs, but should be prepared to listen and not butt in with accusations. With adolescents and teens, it's especially important to discuss peer pressure and to brainstorm together on how to best respond if, say, a classmate offers drugs. Parents should also address the risk of purchasing fake pills — which could be laced with fentanyl and therefore be potentially fatal — or using someone else's prescription medication. For more guidance on discussing the role social media plays in making it easier for young people to access dangerous drugs, refer to this guide for parents.

Despite the show of support for teaching high school students to use it, it's worth noting that Narcan is still new to the market; indeed, the same poll found that 29% of respondents knew "nothing at all" about the life-saving treatment, and only 20% said they would consider buying it.