Police investigating role opioids may have played in school incidents as third student transported to hospital Monday

A Riverhead High School student was transported to a local hospital Monday in the wake of two prior incidents where students received Narcan in the past 10 days, according to Riverhead Town police.

Police Chief David Hegermiller first responders were alerted to a call of a student having difficulty breathing.

“We’re aware and we’re working on it,” he said Monday afternoon.

Riverhead Superintendent Dr. Augustine Tornatore said Narcan was not used on the student Monday.

“I can share with you that the student made a very poor choice at home,” Mr. Tornatore said. “Then the student came into the building after having [ingested the substance] and it was different in the sense that Narcan was not a part of this equation or this conversation.”

He said the district does not yet have any information that any students ingested anything laced with fentanyl.

“There’s a lot of unknowns and I certainly don’t want to jump to conclusions and I always want to go by facts,” he said, adding that further information would be going out to parents Monday.

The latest incident comes after two students lost consciousness about a week apart during school hours. 

The first case involved a student who passed out Feb. 4 and was revived by a school nurse, Chief Hegermiller said. The second incident took place Thursday and the student was also revived by a school nurse. 

In the first case, the student acknowledged using a vape, but the student in the second case did not, the chief said. 

While Narcan was used in both cases, that does not necessarily mean that the opioid-overdose antidote in Narcan, naloxone, was what revived them, the chief said.

“This is under investigation still,” he said. “We have not determined that opioids were involved at this point.”

Riverhead High School parents received a warning Thursday night from principal Sean O’Hara that said a “potentially harmful, ingestible substance may be circulating through the school community and accessible to students.” The notice did not specify the use of Narcan.

Mr. Tornatore said the district does have vape detectors and works regularly with law enforcement and Riverhead Community Awareness Program, a nonprofit that works to limit alcohol and drug use in the community and schools.

“And in fact, we’re going to have a meeting with them soon, because they’re going to be donating not only their services, but the detectors as well,” he said.

Mr. Tornatore said he plans to share with the school board and community at the March 8 Board of Education meeting steps that are being taken at the high school.

“We certainly want to be able to train staff and to inform students,” he said. “So I’m hoping, you know, by then I could have everything concretely shared out.”

Narcan has become widely available in recent years for treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose emergency. Typically administered by a nasal spray, naloxone works to block or reverse the effects of opioids. It is available without a prescription at pharmacies.

Mr. Tornatore said the district is planning to host free Narcan training.

“We’re also looking to set up an evening where we could offer Narcan training to community members because I feel that that’s also important,” he said.

The superintendent said he was grateful and thankful to community members who reached out to lend support and to offer assistance. He said it’s important for the community to be supportive.

“It becomes a little problem when people go on social media and play telephone, and don’t have all the facts,” he said. “So I would hope that somebody instead of doing that would reach out to the appropriate person … I just would ask for community members, to not always believe what’s on social media, and to really come to the district for information rather than looking at something on social media and that happens in every community.”

Following a string of fatal overdoses in Southold Town last summer, several efforts began to distribute Narcan and to hold training sessions for community members.

The Suffolk County Department of Health, in a Tweet Friday evening, issued a reminder that residents can be trained to use naloxone and to have it “in case they are in a situation where they can save a life.”

The Riverhead school district will be closed next week for mid-winter break.