Not your average back-to-school supply list: A parent’s guide to birth control, COVID, more


Pens, binders, graphing calculator: Check, check, check.

What’s less likely to appear on school supply lists, however, are health-related items for teens and young adults, whether they’re heading to high school or college.

But the health landscape has changed drastically over the past three years, and it has become more difficult to know how to prepare. However, experts say, there’s more information and resources parents can use than ever before.

Here’s what to know about the tools that are available, where and how to access them, and how to use them.


Looking ahead to the spring semester, parents can consider the newest addition to over-the-counter contraceptives: a progestin-only birth control pill, called Opill, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last month.

HRA Pharma, which acquired the pill in 2015, has yet to reveal how much it will cost. And while insurance companies generally cover prescription birth control pills, it’s unclear if they will cover over-the-counter products when Opill becomes available in early 2024.

What’s also available over the counter:

  • Condoms

  • Spermicide

  • Contraceptive sponge

Emergency contraception is not technically available over the counter, but most people can access the drug without a prescription depending on the state. Nine states have adopted restrictions on emergency contraceptives, according to the Guttmacher Institute, with some excluding it from their contraceptive coverage mandates and others allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispense the medication.

Commonly known as the “morning-after pill,” or by its brand name Plan B, the drug is a hormone-based contraceptive that prevents or delays ovulation, which is when an egg is released from the ovary.

Greater access to birth control pills: What else does the arrival of Opill mean?

What still requires a prescription:

Besides Opill, all other hormonal birth control pills still require a prescription. Some pills are progestin-only, like Opill, but the most prescribed birth control pills contain both progestin and estrogen.

Hormonal contraceptives consist of short-acting and long-acting methods. Short-acting methods are taken on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Birth control pills are considered short-acting. Long-acting methods can last for years depending on the device.

According to Planned Parenthood, other hormonal birth control methods that require a provider’s prescription include:

  • Shot; short-acting: Administered every three months and is 94% effective;

  • Patch; short-acting: Replaced weekly and is 91% effective;

  • Ring; short-acting: Taken out once a month and can be 91% effective;

  • Intrauterine device, or IUD; long-acting: A small device that’s put into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. It can last between 3 to 5 years, depending on the brand, and is 99% effective;

  • Implant; long-acting: Small, thin rod that’s inserted into the arm by a nurse or doctor. It lasts up to five years and is 99% effective.

Fentanyl test strips and naloxone, or Narcan

Fentanyl accounted for more than 67,000 preventable deaths in 2021, which represents a 21% increase since 2020, according to the National Safety Council. More than 5,600 of those deaths occurred in people ages 15 to 24.

Using harm reduction tools like fentanyl test strips and naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medicine commonly known as Narcan, can help reduce the risk of fentanyl poisoning or accidental overdose, said Dr. Sterling Ransone, board chair and former president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

It’s important to know where to access these tools and how to use them to avoid preventable deaths, said Ransone, who is also a practicing rural family physician in Deltaville, Virginia.

What to know about fentanyl test strips:

Fentanyl tests strips are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in different kinds of drugs and drug forms, like pills, powders, and injectable substances, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How to use fentanyl test strips:

  • Put a small amount of the drug aside in a clean, dry container.

  • Add water and mix together.

  • Place the wavy end of the test stripe in the mixture and let it absorb for about 15 seconds.

  • Take the test strip out and place on a flat surface for 2 to 5 minutes.

  • Read the results. A single line will appear on the left-hand side of the strip if fentanyl has been detected, indicating a positive result. If there is no fentanyl detected, two pink lines will appear.

While it’s a useful tool to prevent accidental overdoses, not all fentanyl test strips can be trusted, Ransone said. Some test strips sold online or through friends may be counterfeit or not work properly.

“There are no checks on those folks who can advertise online,” he said. It’s important to get fentanyl strips from health departments, community organizations or other trusted sources.

No prescription required: FDA approves overdose-reversing drug Narcan for over-the-counter sales

What to know about naloxone, or Narcan

Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids including heroin, prescription opioid medications and fentanyl. It can come in a nasal spray or a solution that’s injected into the muscle or under the skin, according to the CDC.

Naloxone can be prescribed by a doctor in all 50 states, but some states also have the medication available at local pharmacies without a prescription. Some people also can get naloxone from community-based programs, depending on the state.

Before administering, the CDC said, it’s important to call 911 immediately. Try to keep the person awake and breathing, and lay them on their side to prevent choking.

How to use naloxone nasal spray:

  • Carefully remove the naloxone from its packaging and hold the nasal spray with your thumb on the plunger.

  • Tilt back the head of the person experiencing an overdose.

  • Place the tip of the nasal spray in either nostril until your fingers are touching their nose.

  • Firmly press the plunger to release the entire dose of medication into their nose.

  • Wait 2-3 minutes for the person to respond. If they don’t, give additional doses, switching nostrils, until emergency services arrive.

How to use injectable naloxone:

  • Take the cap off the vial and stick the needle through the rubber stopper.

  • Draw all the fluid into the needle by pulling back on the plunger.

  • Inject the needle straight into the muscle in the shoulder or into the front of the thigh.

  • Push down on the plunger to empty the syringe.

  • Wait 2-3 minutes for the person to respond. If they don’t, give additional doses and stay until emergency services arrive.


Coronavirus transmission has begun to creep up this summer due to travel, less frequent testing and heat waves across the country forcing people to gather inside, leading to a rise in hospitalizations, according to data from the CDC.

Transmission is likely to continue rising in the fall and winter along with other respiratory viruses like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), experts say, but they’re not expecting a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths like previous years.

Most Americans already have some type of immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, from vaccines or prior infection, and are less likely to develop severe disease. The country is also ready with ample tests at local retailers, and experts say there will likely be a new bivalent booster available in the fall to enhance that immune protection.

The government is no longer sending free tests since the public health emergency ended in May, but don’t be too quick to throw away those tests you already received. The FDA has extended the expiration dates of various at-home COVID-19 tests by months and even years. The extended expiration dates by type of test and brand can be found on the agency’s website.

People who get the new bivalent booster will be considered up-to-date on their vaccines, experts say. Americans who didn’t finish their primary series or get previous boosters will be considered fully vaccinated if they receive the new booster.

Mental health

Although there’s no physical toolkit for this, parents can address their kids’ mental health ahead of the school year, said Whitney Raglin Bignall, associate clinical director of On Our Sleeves Movement for Children’s Mental Health by Nationwide Children’s Health, a program that offers resources to support children’s mental health.

The program provides an online checklist for parents of actions that can improve a child’s mental health going into the new school year. It includes:

  • Talking about and practicing any expected changes;

  • Getting back into routine;

  • Getting organized;

  • Talking about expectations for you and your child;

  • Connecting with the school; and

  • Visiting your doctor.

Being prepared, having a routine and knowing what to expect is good for a child’s mental health, Raglin Bignall said. Getting enough sleep and checking in throughout the year will also help.

Parents may want to seek help if they see signs their kids are struggling with their mental health, which may include isolating, not sleeping or sleeping more than usual, having anxiety, avoiding school or complaining of physical symptoms like a stomachache.

“We might want them to see a professional and one of the ways to start doing that is to talk to the school to see if they’re linked with services or going to see your child pediatrician,” Raglin Bignall said.

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on X, formerly Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Back to school supplies can include birth control, fentanyl strips too

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