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Should students be allowed to carry Narcan? Durango School District to consider the question

Administrators worry about state law and health risks of administering the drug
About 25 students gather in front of the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building on Tuesday to show support for allowing students to carry Narcan at school. But Superintendent Karen Cheser is concerned about potential safety issues that arise from non-trained students administering Narcan. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Students are requesting Durango School District 9-R allow them to carry Narcan at school as more youths experiment with opioids, which can have life-threatening consequences.

While there have been no reports of overdoses at Durango High School, students say the drugs are being used, and they want to be prepared in the event of an overdose.

The Board of Education was scheduled to discuss the topic Tuesday night.

Students met with 9-R Superintendent Karen Cheser on Dec. 9 to discuss the possibility of carrying Narcan at school. During the discussion, she agreed to work with the district’s attorney and insurance company on mitigating risks and looking for possible solutions.

No other school district in Colorado allows students to carry Narcan at school because a state statute says only employees or agents trained to administer Narcan are protected from civil liability or criminal prosecution. 9-R students are also not allowed to carry Narcan because it violates the school district’s policy on drugs and alcohol use on school campuses.

Narcan is a brand name for Naloxone, which is a medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.

“This is not a fight for rights. It’s a request for a policy change,” Cheser said in a news release Tuesday. “We honor student voice. We are opening a larger discussion based on their questions and ideas.”

The district’s drug and alcohol policy says it is a violation for a student to possess, use, sell, distribute or be under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other controlled substances.

Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Karen Cheser is concerned about potential safety issues that arise from non-trained students administering Narcan. (Durango Herald file)

Controlled substances include narcotics, hallucinogenic substances, amphetamines, barbiturates, stimulants, depressants, marijuana and anabolic steroids. It also includes any prescription or nonprescription drugs, and other chemical substances not taken in accordance with district policy and regulations on administering medications to students. This is where students’ request to carry Narcan runs into problems with district policy.

A rally about allowing students to carry Narcan was expected to take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Buckley Park, a half-hour before the school board meeting. Indivisible Durango and DHS’ Women in Leadership Development Club led the rally.

“We’re just trying to open conversation with the school board,” said Willow Lott, a DHS senior who co-founded Women in Leadership Development. “This isn’t like an official protest and we’re not rebelling against them. We appreciate a lot of what they do.”

Cheser said the policy change request for students to carry and administer Narcan at school brings up multiple concerns around safety, certified training, liability and parent permission.

Some of the district’s safety concerns involve students mistaking other medical issues for an overdose and using the Narcan incorrectly. Others include allergic reactions to the medication or that some drugs, like animal tranquilizers, do not respond to Narcan and administering it can induce fatal vomiting and choking.

Another risk factor can occur immediately after Narcan is administered. Some people can have violent physical reactions as a result of sudden withdraw symptoms.

About 25 students gather in front of the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building on Tuesday to show support for allowing students to carry Narcan. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

DHS senior Hays Stritikus said drugs can be laced with dangerous substances, and having access to Narcan make sense because of the potential harm laced drugs can cause. He said there have been deaths and near-death experiences in the past, including an incident involving an Animas High School student who died in December 2021

“It’s common sense to have access to Narcan,” he said.

The medication is available at the Student-Based Health Center at Durango High School where the health service providers are trained to use it. The district’s Student Resource Officers are also trained to administer Narcan, according to the district.

“We just want to make our school a safer place,” said Nina Quayle, a DHS senior who cofounded the Women in Leadership Development. “This is a growing issue and it’s an epidemic, really. You’re not promoting drug use by promoting this kind of care.”

The district plans to increase the number of staff members trained to use Narcan and to take a number of measures to address substance use with students.

Those measures include a communitywide prevention event Feb. 23 at the Doubletree Hotel, assemblies planned at all middle and high schools led by a substance-use expert, and hiring a substance-use educator with Colorado Department of Education grant funding.

Cheser said in Tuesday’s news release that no overdoses have occurred on any 9-R campuses and, the availability of Narcan at schools is precautionary.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

(An earlier version of this story published on Jan. 24 incorrectly reported that only trained staff members were allowed to administer Narcan on school campuses under Colorado Revised Statute 22-1-119.1. Under the law, only trained employees or agents are protected from civil liability or criminal prosecution.)

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