A group of Durango High School students requested permission to carry the nasal-spray drug to prevent overdose. After the Board’s decision on March 29 regarding the Opioid Antagonist Policy, district leaders were tasked with how to make it all work: Allow students to carry and administer Narcan at school; support student training; address distribution, storage and delivery; incorporate parental consent, and prevent legal risk.
Narcan, a drug that can reverse opioid overdose, has been available for emergency use as a nasal spray by trained adult staff and safety officers at all the district’s schools for nearly two years. There have been no overdoses at any of the district’s 11 schools.
Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser talked to a small group of students at Durango High School in early April to get their feedback before finalizing the policy. Dr. Cheser noted that some students expressed concern that the district took too long to make a decision.
“We’re committed to the safety of our staff and students,” she said. “Our actions reflect this commitment. We took great care to listen to students and experts, research extensively, and created a document that protects everyone to the best of our ability. Our schools will be the first in the state and one of the first in the nation to adopt this policy. When there’s a lot at stake, these things can’t be rushed.”
The new Section J policy, (C.R.S. 22-1-119.1 and C.R.S. 22-1-119) is called the Administration of Opioid Antagonists. It includes guidelines and procedures governing the utilization and administration of opioid antagonists by trained individuals, which includes students. The policy includes a parent’s permission form that states that the use of Narcan “shall be at the Student’s and Parents’ sole risk.” Parents must come to the school in person with the permission slip and have a conversation with the healthcare staff to make sure they understand that they are taking on the liability for their child's use of Narcan.
Previously in Board meetings, staff talked about outside product distribution and outside training; but now it has been decided that it will all be handled in-house at the schools. Healthcare staff at DHS said they would like to handle the training and check-in/check-out system. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will provide the product for students, and the healthcare staff will manage inventory and distribution.
"This is a new responsibility for our school healthcare providers, and I appreciate them willingly taking this on," said Board President Kristin Smith during the April 25 Board meeting. "I feel so much better knowing we have trained professionals taking ownership of this."
District leaders and the Board were respectful and supportive of students throughout the policy decision process. “There were some references to the district ‘fighting’ with students,” said Cheser. “It was a series of discussions – not a fight. We value and encourage open, two-way communication.”
Cheser said the district and Board worked hand in hand with student leaders through every step of the process. Three student board members acted as liaisons with their peers at Durango High School. “We praised them at every meeting for their courage, passion, and eloquence. And now we are working closely with the students who led this effort to follow through. We’re encouraging them to help us implement this policy and continue their work of awareness and training.”
Substance use prevention is also an ongoing effort in the district’s schools. The staff is working to increase programs and outreach so students will avoid fentanyl and other drugs – and not have a need for Narcan. “We have a layered approach” to keeping students safe and aware of healthy choices, said Vanessa Giddings, Executive Director of Student Support Services.