SOUTH JAMAICA, Queens (PIX11) — It may sound kind of grim, but a drug overdose treatment regimen is being taught at a preschool and day care. The instructor, Maria Arazamendi, is a veteran substance abuse treatment counselor, but in a classroom at Bright Start Early Learning Center, she made a confession.
“I’ve been training forever,” she said, “and this is the first time I’m training a day care center.”
Arazamendi has 20 years of experience treating substance abuse patients and training their caregivers.
She’s the sister of Damaris Pearson, the director of Bright Start. Pearson felt that all of her faculty members needed to know how to administer Narcan, a substance that counters drugs’ effects.
“Naloxone,” said Azaramendi to one group of teachers, using the substance’s clinical name, “it’s a safe medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose.”
“They utilized this on the baby that died,” she said, “but it was too late.”
She referred to the tragedy that happened at a day care center in the Bronx on Sept. 15. That’s when four children overdosed at the Divino Niño day care on Morris Avenue. One of the children, 1-year-old Nicholas Feliz-Dominici died, in an apparent fentanyl overdose, according to investigators.
The incident has left day care centers like Bright Start Early Learning Center to evaluate their own situations.
Denise Young is a teacher of 2- and 3-year-olds at Bright Start.
“I can never imagine a tragedy like that could happen in this facility, but it can happen,” she said, after doing the Narcan training. “What do we do?”
It’s why she spent the 20 minutes learning how to use Narcan, she said.
Pearson, the school’s director, said that she felt compelled to offer the training to ensure that her teachers were ready to serve students and families.
Still, she said, “Bringing it into our environment, it hurts.” She described the training as an unfortunate necessity.
“We have to educate ourselves so that we can, in an emergency, respond,” she said.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that the 3,026 overdose deaths in 2022 was the highest number it’s seen since it began tracking overdose deaths in 2000.
Similarly, Dr. Christopher Calandrella, the chair of the emergency department at Northwell Health’s LIJ Forest Hills Medical Center, said that they’ve seen the substance abuse problem growing widely.
“It really is all different ages,” he said in an interview, adding that occasions are increasing “for people in the community to get access to these medicines and drugs.”
“We will probably continue to see more of these cases,” he added.
It’s why caregivers have to be ready, said Arazamendi, the Narcan trainer.
“It saddens my heart,” she said about the need to train teachers at a day care, “but it’s sweet to think that now several adults walk away with this knowledge.”
“In essence,” she said, “it’s helping the children.”
A variety of the children’s parents and caregivers who spoke with PIX11 News after pickup at Bright Start endorsed the move.
Nina Richardson was walking her 3-year-old grandson home. “Yeah, I think it’s a good thing,” she said.
Lawrence Bell, the parent of another 3-year-old, agreed. “It’s great that they’re taking these extra steps in order to look out and protect the children,” he said.