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Our View: Students carrying Narcan makes sense

We hope school districts can find legal solutions

Teens potentially saving other teens in the event of an overdose. Now, that got our attention. We are moved by and impressed with Durango High School students’ respectful request to carry and administer Narcan on school grounds. And on their side: health agencies and teens who have battled addiction.

We also appreciate Durango School District 9-R for listening to students and wasting no time in responding, then working with the district’s legal team to draft guidelines to mitigate legal risk to all involved.

A rights issue? A policy issue? Or a moral issue? We see all three.

At this time, no Colorado school districts allow students to carry Narcan, a brand name for naloxone, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. Narcan is generally safe and easy to use with proper basic training.

The situation is legally compelling.

Under Colorado law, anyone who “acts in good faith to administer naloxone” is immune from prosecution. But a state statute says only school employees or “agents” trained to administer Narcan are protected from civil liability or criminal prosecution. The district has argued agents are third-party, contracted employees and minors do not have the legal capacity to be agents. 9-R students can’t carry Narcan because it violates the district’s policy on drugs and alcohol use on school campuses. Narcan, however, cannot be used to get high, is not addictive and doesn’t have an effect on people without no opioids in their system.

Yet, students trained in administering Narcan see themselves as those “agents.” They would essentially be each other’s first responders. Students helping students; foot soldiers in this opioid crisis that continues to hang on.

We commend DSH students for not only voicing concerns about the opioid crisis, but their willingness to do something about it. And – this is important – the way they went about it was appropriate. This is a how-to example in making changes in our school districts. We hope 9-R – and, eventually, Montezuma-Cortez School District – create a legal solution so students can protect each other and not get in trouble for carrying Narcan.

Think about it. If any sect of the population can curb opioid overdoses and achieve better outcomes, it would naturally be young people. They know who is doing what, where and when. Chances are, an overdose is more likely to happen off campus at parties, where teens can unknowingly ingest fentanyl.

If Narcan were a standard glove box item – alongside an insurance card and vehicle registration – stigmas around drug use and abuse would likely lessen. We know stigmas are barriers to people getting treatment they need. Having Narcan readily available makes the statement that help – not shame – is here. Immediately. Just like cardiopulmonary resuscitation, an emergency procedure. And administering Narcan is much easier than CPR. Positive response rates are impressive.

Last week, 9-R Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser said: “We have never had an opioid overdose at any of our schools. Our security and health care staff are trained to administer this life-saving medication.”

In Montezuma-Cortez School District, no word on the possibility of high-schoolers one day carrying Narcan.

Montezuma-Cortez is revising policies and the Narcan policy is one of them, according to Superintendent Tom Burris. Narcan will be kept in nurses’ offices, and nurses will train secretaries and administrators.

In Durango, Narcan will likely land on the agenda at the next regular Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

We’re glad to see the conversation continue. We wouldn’t be the first in the country. Under a soon-to-be-updated policy, students at Los Angeles Unified schools will be able to carry Narcan.

If only one teen’s life is saved, all efforts would have been worth it.