Researchers create tool to examine cost-effectiveness of naloxone programs in high schools

Photo Credit: James Heilman, MD, from Wikimedia Commons

In the midst of a national opioid crisis, some Canadian school boards have implemented school-based naloxone programs in order to provide secondary school administrators, teachers and students with access to naloxone kits, which can reverse an opioid overdose.

Recognizing that school boards have limited budgets for public health interventions, researchers at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the Ivey Business School have used the principles of cost-effectiveness in order to determine whether or not naloxone programs are the best use of resources.

“We created this tool, not because the program is costly, but because targeting overdose fatality prevention for a low-risk population has an unclear value,” said Lauren Cipriano, PhD, who co-authored the study with Gregory Zaric, PhD, both cross-appointed in Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Ivey. “The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that there were 80 overdose fatalities in 2017 for people under the age of 19, but there are no public reports of opioid overdoses, fatal or otherwise, happening in a school.”

The cost-effectiveness examination was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence and used the Toronto District School Board as an example. The study evaluated costs and health effects of naloxone programs relative to relying on existing emergency and public health resources alone.

The study determined that in order for the naloxone program to be cost-effective, there would need to be at least one overdose per year across the whole school board (112 high schools), and they would need to reduce mortality by about 50 per cent (from about 10% to 5%).

One goal of this research is that any school board could use the spreadsheet tool to determine whether a naloxone program is cost-effective for their particular circumstances. The researchers have made their evaluation tool publicly available through the journal’s web site

“Each school board can tailor the inputs for their own situation. They may decide to put naloxone kits in high schools anyway, but I would hope that they would do so informed by solid evidence,” said Zaric.

The researchers argue that if the risk of an overdose in a high school is low, then other programs aimed at improving the health and well-being of students may be better use of limited resources.

“Because the budget for a school board is limited, it is about using that limited budget in the best possible way,” said Zaric. “There are a lot of public health interventions for high school students around mental health, diet, and sex education that might have a better incremental cost per health benefit or per quality of life years gained.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Crystal Mackay, Media Relations Officer, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University, t. 519.661.2111 ext. 80387, c. 519.933.5944, @CrystalMackay

Western University delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.


The Ivey Business School ( at Western University is Canada’s leading provider of relevant, innovative and comprehensive business education. Drawing on extensive research and business experience, Ivey faculty provides the best classroom experience, equipping graduates with the skills and capabilities they need to tackle the leadership challenges in today’s complex business world. Ivey offers world-renowned undergraduate and graduate degree programs, as well as Executive Education at campuses in London (Ontario), Toronto and Hong Kong.