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Durango school board sides with students on Narcan debate

Vote allows district to ratify opiate antagonist use policy
Durango School District 9-R Board of Education voted 4-1 to allow the district to assume the legal risk of allowing students to carry and administer Narcan on campus. Superintendent Karen Cheser and other district staff members can now draft a policy that could allow students to administer the drug. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Durango School District 9-R Board of Education voted 4-1 on Tuesday to allow the school district to assume the legal risk of allowing students to carry and use Narcan at school.

It was a victory for a group of Durango High School students who fought an uphill battle to change the policy.

The vote could make 9-R the first Colorado school district to allow students to administer Narcan on campus.

The vote means Superintendent Karen Cheser can now draft a policy around allowing students to carry and use Narcan at school. The board does not oversee district policies, as that falls under the purview of the superintendent and district staff members.

The day after 9-R’s vote, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Narcan nasal spray for over-the-counter use. The timeline for availability of the drug will be determined by the manufacturer, according to an FDA news release.

As it currently stands, the legal risks of allowing students to carry and administer Narcan at school are not well understood.

Cheser again reminded meeting attendees and board members that there is little case law on the subject to use as precedent.

Students who fought for a policy change celebrated their victory during an intermission at Tuesday’s meeting. Some students had been working for over a year to change the policy after hearing about fatal fentanyl overdoses in the community.

Board member Andrea Parmenter presented the motion seeking to allow the district to take on the legal risk.

“Kids wanting to save kids – I don’t know what is more profound than that,” she said. “This has been a great learning experience for all of us, and that is what we’re all about as a district.”

Board member Erika Brown seconded the motion. She applauded students for researching opioid antagonists laws and Colorado’s Third Party Naloxone law, which extends a degree of criminal immunity to non-health care providers who act in good faith to administer naloxone to a person believed to be suffering from an opiate-related drug overdose.

“That Third Party Naloxone law does seem like it will cover us to greater degree,” Brown said.

She said learning about the law made her feel more comfortable allowing students to carry Narcan, as the legal risk was her primary concern.

Board president Kristin Smith voted against the motion, saying she is not a fan of taking legal risks.

“I appreciate that students want to save other students,” she said. “I do want students to understand that when they enter the doors of our buildings that we are here to care for you.”

She added that there are adults who can take care of emergency situations and that Cheser has already planned to train additional staff members on how to use opioid antagonists.

She said allowing students to carry Narcan in their cars wouldn’t be a problem, but it creates a concern once students bring it onto school grounds.

“I’m not sure if there would be a legal risk to that or not,” Smith said. “But to administer it to another student during the school day in the building is just something that I feel like is better left in the hands of the adults.”

A draft of the policy was posted on the board’s meeting agenda. The draft says in the case of a suspected opioid overdose, trained staff or trained student shall follow the protocols outlined in the opiate antagonist training.

It also says that after administration of the opiate antagonist, the trained staff member or trained student who administered the opiate antagonist will immediately notify the building principal or designee, who shall follow the Colorado Department of Education reporting protocol.

The reporting protocol includes making sure the overdose victim is taken to an emergency department, notifying appropriate student services and parent or guardian, and providing substance-abuse prevention resources to the overdose victim and family, as appropriate.

However, it is just a draft and no policy has been finalized. The district reminds parents and students that Narcan is already available at all schools and that there has not been an overdose at any 9-R campus.

Also, attached to the board agenda topic was a waiver draft asking for parental permission for their child to carry and use Narcan. In the waiver, it clearly says students must receive training before they are allowed to administer the drug.

There is still much to be discussed about the policy such as how students will be trained to administer Narcan.

DHS senior Leo Stritikus said students look forward to working with the district to develop a policy that all parties are comfortable with.

“We’re going to continue with our efforts to communicate with the board,” he said. “We obviously know this is a difficult process and one that we’re entirely committed to seeing through to the end. This is not the end, and so we’re going communicate with Dr. Cheser.”

DHS senior Hays Stritikus said students would like to offer their knowledge of distributing Narcan off-campus when developing the final policy.

“I think truly this is the beginning of the actual work that must be done,” he said. “This is the beginning of a new era in harm reduction.”

Ideally, students would like to work with a public health entity to distribute Narcan and offer training on campus, he said.

Students are also trying to develop a coalition that would fight to change the Colorado Revised Statute that covers only trained employees or agents to administer Narcan for clarity and to coincide with Colorado’s Third Party Naloxone Law.


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