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Students face off with Durango School District over carrying Narcan on campus

9-R staff and students grapple with meaning, intent of Colorado statute
Students gather in front of the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building on Tuesday in support of being allowed to carry Narcan on school grounds. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Durango High School students presented their case for carrying Narcan – a medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses – during a school board meeting Tuesday.

Allowing students to carry Narcan on school grounds could help save a life, they said, noting the emergence of opioids and other drugs laced with opioids are circulating in the community and being used by teens.

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

Narcan is a brand of Naloxone, which is a medication that reverses the effect of opioid overdoses. It can be administered through a nasal spray or intravenously. The spray is the most common form of the drug used. When administering the spray, there is a plunger at the bottom of the container an individual presses to administer the spray into a nostril. There is only one dose in each container.

The school district argues that only trained employees are protected from civil liability or criminal prosecution when administering Narcan on school grounds under Colorado Revised Statute 22-1-119.1. However, the law says, “an employee or agent of the school may, after receiving appropriate training, administer an opiate antagonist on school grounds to assist an individual who is at risk of experiencing an opiate-related drug overdose event.”

Students focused on the “agent” aspect of the law, arguing that if they were trained to administer Narcan under a public health entity such as San Juan Basin Public Health, they could be considered agents under the law.

During a public comment period at Tuesday’s board meeting, Durango High School senior Ilias Stritikus asked the board to consider allowing students to organize Narcan trainings.

“This is a big ask and we acknowledge that,” he said. “We’d be the first district in the state to do this. But I think the question we ask ourselves is, why not here?”

He noted that 107,000 Americans died of an overdose in 2022.

DHS senior Hays Stritikus argued that C.R.S. 12-30-110 allows them to administer Narcan at schools if they are certified to administer the drug.

The law says that school districts, schools, employees or agents of a school can furnish Naloxone to people who are in positions to assist an person at risk of opiate-related overdose.

“We’ve seen deaths in our community and it would be horrible to see another, especially now that we have the ability to prevent that,” Hays Stritikus said.

DHS senior Maddy LeSage said some people may cast aspersions – conjure negative perceptions – if students are allowed to carry Narcan. But she views it as a safety issue.

The school district does other things to promote safety, like encouraging safe sex, advising people receive COVID-19 vaccines and canceling school on snowy days. She asked why the same safety measures can’t be taken when it comes to substance abuse.

Ilias Stritikus made a similar point.

“I’d be curious to see the last time we’ve had a heart attack on campus, but we have AED machines everywhere, and I can harm myself more with a defibrillator than I can with Narcan,” he said.

Students and school district members did not see eye-to-eye on the meaning of “agent.”

From one perspective, the law does not specifically say that students cannot possess and administer Narcan on campus. But the school district argues agents are contracted employees from a third-party hired by the district and that minors do not have the legal capacity to be agents.

Also, there is a concern as to whether students would have parental permission to administer Narcan while on campus. Under Colorado law, employees who dispense any drug with written permission from a parent or guardian are not liable for an adverse reaction to the drug.

“We would have to require that parents sign off on this,” said 9-R Superintendent Karen Cheser.

The district listed other potential risks.

“We have an operational expectation that really looks at did I, as a superintendent, prevent risk and liability to the district,” she said.

A primary risk, legally speaking, is that students are not covered under the state statute to administer Narcan, which is why no other district in Colorado has allowed students to carry it.

“You never know what the legal risk is until it’s been tested, so we can’t be told what that would look like,” Cheser said.

Another risk she addressed was students obtaining nonauthentic Narcan or possessing Narcan that is past its expiration, which could be harmful.

Cheser noted that a student’s lifesaving efforts could be unsuccessful, and wondered what impact that may have on a student emotionally and mentally. It is also possible students could misdiagnose something like an epileptic seizure for an overdose, she said.

She raised the potential for harm if a student were given Naloxone when they are overdoing on Xylazine, also known as “Tranq.” Xylazine is used as a veterinary anesthesia but has recently become popular for recreational use in mostly urban populations.

Cheser referred to a Jan. 7 New York Times article that detailed the dangers of Xylazine as well as the use of Naloxone for a Xylazine overdose. According to the article, giving someone too much Naloxone when overdosing on Xylazine can put that person into withdraw, causing writhing and vomiting.

Information from the National Institute of Drug Abuse website linked in the New York Times story confirms that these are symptoms when Naloxone is used for an opioid overdose. However, the site later says, “The risk of death for someone overdosing on opioids is worse than the risk of having a bad reaction to naloxone.”

“One of the main reasons we support Narcan is that harm-reduction increases harm-reduction,” Ilias Stritikus said. “When kids carry Narcan, fentanyl test strips or other harm-reduction methods, it makes them more cognizant of what they’re doing.”

Ilias Stritikus said students aren’t likely use opioids during the school day but it’s where students go after. He said it’s a common trend for students to go to a sporting event after school and then to a party later where in both scenarios students could be using opioids. In the instance of a sporting event, a trained employee may not be able to administer the drug in time to help someone who is overdosing.

“9-R can’t ask students to ‘be responsible when you use’ and then at the same time make carrying Narcan on campus a punishable offense,” he said.

The students did not agree with the district’s perspective on the dangers of Narcan and argued that the medication did not have any negative side effects.

In an interview, Cheser reiterated that there hasn’t been an overdose on any of the district’s campuses and said the places where students really needed to carry Narcan is during social settings outside the classroom.

Another concern students had was the district’s alcohol and drug policy that prohibits students from carrying Narcan on campus because it is considered a controlled substance. Students said it felt as if they were being punished for carrying a drug that could save lives.

“I just don’t want to be penalized for having it in my vehicle, even if I’m not carrying it,” Hays Stritikus said.

Cheser said the district would have to develop a separate policy just for opiate antagonists so that students wouldn’t be violating the policy to carry Narcan.

The 9-R board did not make a decision about whether students could carry Narcan but urged students to keep fighting for their cause.

Board Treasurer Rick Petersen told students to reach out to Colorado state representatives and senators to make sure their voices are heard at the state level.

Ilias Stritikus said dialogue has been positive and students will continue to attend school board meetings until they are able to carry Narcan at school.


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