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Q&A: Durango student helped lead the fight to carry and use Narcan on campus

Maddy Lesage has helped train hundreds of students, staff and faculty on how to administer lifesaving drug
Maddy Lesage, a senior at Durango High School, is one of the students who led the fight to allow students to carry and administer Narcan on campus. (Courtesy of Maddy Lesage)

A wave of opioid overdoses in the United States in the past decade, most recently fueled by the synthetic drug fentanyl – which illicitly finds its way into other drugs – has stoked efforts across the country to provide a reverse-overdose drug as ubiquitous and easy to lay hands on as EpiPens and Band-Aids.

Narcan (generically called naloxone) was approved for over-the-counter sale by the Food and Drug Administration March 29 – the morning after Durango School District 9-R Board of Education voted 4-1 to allow students to carry and administer Narcan at school.

The 9-R vote came about because of a student-led effort.

Narcan rapidly reverses opioid overdoses. It has no effect on someone with no opioids in their system. Examples of opioids include heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine. Naloxone was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in 1971. Paramedics and hospitals have been using it ever since. Narcan is delivered via nasal-spray.

Maddy Lesage, a senior at Durango High School, is not only one of the students who led the fight to allow students to carry and administer Narcan on campus, she has also helped educate and train students, faculty and staff on how to deliver the lifesaving drug to someone who has overdosed.

Lesage is an AP student who has participated on the ski racing and swim and dive teams during her time at DHS. She plans to attend San Diego State University in the fall and study neuroscience.

“I want to go into the medical field but I didn't want to major in premed just because I feel like that closes some doors,” Lesage said. “I'm in an AP psychology class right now, which I really, really love. And I think that there's so much about the brain that we don't know.”

DH: What was the consensus among the students who fought to have Durango School District 9-R allow students to carry and administer Narcan? Did it feel like a victory?

ML: It definitely was a victory because now it allows for so much more opportunity to do what could potentially be an even bigger victory, and that’s helping kids and possibly saving somebody's life.

Why did students have to lead this charge in the face of resistance from the school district?

Right now there's a huge epidemic going around the entire nation. And it's pretty obviously hitting teenagers and young adults hard. And you don't understand that perspective until you hear it from kids. And everybody in the world wants to think, ‘Oh, not my kid, not kids in Durango. These kids are not doing that.’ But until they hear from the actual students that it does happen, they don’t really know. I think it brings in an entirely new perspective.

How many students were actively involved in the effort to get it approved by the school district?

Probably five or six DHS kids and two or three Animas (High School) kids were actively involved. And then at our protests and the school board’s meetings and stuff, probably about 30 kids at every different event.

About 25 students gather in front of the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building on Jan. 24 to show support for allowing students to carry Narcan at school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
Were any students against it?

There was one kid in student council who was against it.

Did FDA approval to sell Narcan over-the-counter validate the students’ fight?

It definitely gave us some backing for sure. Because you know, we're high school kids and having some professionalism in there definitely helped. It just supported us. I don't think the board was like, ‘Oh OK, somebody else said it.’ I don't think that's necessarily what happened.

How prevalent a threat to students is overdosing from fentanyl-laced drugs and other opioids?

The fact that we don't know, especially living in a small town like Durango, nobody knows where anything comes from. Nobody knows where it was manufactured. And so I honestly think it's just kind of an ignorance thing, that nobody knows where anything comes from and with the fentanyl problem, that's our biggest threat. Telling kids ‘don't do drugs’ isn't working. There's an experimental factor (with high school kids), then there’s the possible poisoning factor.

The best example is that in December 2021, we lost a student (Animas High School) to an overdose. He thought he was taking something and it ended up having fentanyl in it, which killed him.

The school board sends out a survey ... (which asks) ‘by the time you leave high school will you have tried a pill?’ and 15% of students said that they will or have tried a pill. But the death of the student is kind of what started all of this. He was a kid in my grade. And it’s what kind of really opened all the students’ eyes to this is real, it’s a real thing.

How easy is it for students to get drugs that may be, unknown to them, laced with fentanyl?

Easy. I could do it right now.

Are there known dealers at school?

I wouldn't necessarily say that they're in this school. I know some who are older, just random people in Durango.

Do you carry Narcan?

I do. I have carried it ever since I knew what it was. My neighbor used to work for the state. And she came over to my house and she was like, ‘Hey, do you know what this is?’ And I was like ‘No, I have never heard of that before,’ and then she told me about it and trained me how to use it. After that is when I kind of decided that's something every kid my age should know, which is when I brought it into the school.

Were you the first student in Durango High School to raise awareness about Narcan?

About a year ago, when I was trained on it, I sent a couple of emails. And again, I decided every student should know, especially after what happened at Animas. I sent a couple of emails to our principal saying I want to start an organization where we educate and we prevent and we protect kids from overdose. So I started what is now called ‘Be In the NOE’ club, NOE being a play on words for Narcan Outreach and Education. At about the same time our students were running for student council and Leo Stritikus was running and his big thing was that he wanted fentanyl test strips in the school. When he was fighting that fight, they told him, ‘Well, we don't have Narcan,’ so he started the Narcan fight and eventually we started working together. And then we got some other kids. And then Animas kids jumped in. [The school district says it has had Narcan available at schools for 1½ years for use by staff with training, but students were not allowed to carry it.]

What does the Be In the NOE club do now?

It’s really only called a club because that’s what my principal told me I had to call it. But really what we do is, in the beginning of the year I was doing trainings in classrooms and at lunch and during our enrichment period, where kids came and they learned about overdose, and they learned about how you administer Narcan. They got that Narcan training. And then once we started the fight with the board I kind of stopped doing those trainings and was focusing on getting the policy change. I've trained around 200 students and just yesterday (last week) I trained all the staff members. That was probably 40 adults.

So where do things stand now with DHS students carrying and being allowed to administer Narcan?

With the policy change, students are allowed to carry Narcan that they get from the school. So the school will distribute Narcan to any student who has been trained and who has had their parents sign a permission slip. And they can carry that Narcan on school grounds and they can take it to parties on Friday nights or football games or to homecoming or to whatever. But it has to be the Narcan that the school gave you. [The school district says DHS is not yet distributing Narcan on campus. “In the future when we have an established policy we may have (San Juan Basin Public Health) pass it out after training,” a spokeswoman said.]


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