January 29, 2023

9-R staff and students explore the meaning and purpose of the Colorado Statute

Students gather outside the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building Tuesday to campaign for the ability to wear Narcan on school property. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Students at Durango High School presented their case for wearing Narcan — a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose — during a school board meeting on Tuesday.

Allowing students to carry Narcan on school property could help save a life, they said, noting that opioids and other opioid-laced drugs circulate in the community and are used by teenagers.

The school district argues that only trained employees are protected from civil liability or criminal prosecution for administering Narcan on school property under Colorado Revised Statute 22-1-119.1. However, the law states that “a school employee or officer, after appropriate training, may administer an opiate antagonist on school premises to assist a person at risk of an opiate-related overdose.”

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

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

“It’s a big request and we recognize it,” he said. “We would be the first county in the state to do this. But I think the question we ask ourselves is: why not here?”

He found that 107,000 Americans would die from an overdose in 2022.

DHS Senior Hays Stritikus argued that CRS 12-30-110 allows them to administer Narcan in schools if they are certified to administer the drug.

The law states that school districts, schools, employees, or school officials can provide naloxone to anyone who is able to help a person at risk of an opiate-related overdose.

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

DHS Senior Maddy LeSage said some people may smear — conjure up negative perceptions — if students are allowed to wear Narcan. But she sees it as a security issue.

The school district is doing other things to promote safety, like promoting safer sex, advising people to get COVID-19 vaccines, and canceling school on snowy days. She asked why the same safety measures cannot be taken when it comes to drug abuse.

Ilias Stritikus made a similar point.

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

Students and district members disagreed on the meaning of “agent.”

From one perspective, the law does not specifically state that students cannot possess and administer Narcan on campus. However, the school district argues that agents are contract employees of a third party employed by the district and that minors do not have the legal capacity to be agents.

There are also concerns about whether students would have parental permission to administer Narcan on campus. Under Colorado law, employees who dispense a drug with written permission from a parent or legal guardian are not liable for an adverse drug reaction.

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

The county listed other potential risks.

“We have an operational expectation that is really looking to see if I, as superintendent, have prevented risk and liability to the district,” Cheser said.

Legally, a major risk is that students are not covered by the state’s Narcan administration law, which is why no other county in Colorado has allowed students to wear it.

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

Another risk she addressed was students receiving inauthentic narcan or possessing narcan that had expired, which could be harmful.

Noting that a student’s life-saving efforts could be unsuccessful, Cheser wondered what effect this might have on a student emotionally and mentally. It’s also possible students could misdiagnose something like an epileptic seizure for an overdose, she said.

She pointed out the potential for harm if a student were given naloxone if they were overdoing it on xylazine, also known as “tranq.” Xylazine is used as a veterinary anesthetic but has recently become popular for recreational use among the predominantly urban population.

Cheser was referring to a January 7th New York Times Article detailing the dangers of xylazine as well as the use of naloxone for xylazine overdose. According to the article, giving too much naloxone to a xylazine overdose can send that person into a state of withdrawal, which can lead to convulsions and vomiting.

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

“One of the main reasons we support Narcan is that mitigation increases mitigation,” said Ilias Stritikus. “When kids carry Narcan, fentanyl test strips, or other harm reduction methods, they know better what they’re doing.”

In an interview, Cheser reiterated that there had never been an overdose on any of the district’s campuses and said that the places students really needed to wear Narcan were in social situations outside of the classroom.

Another concern for students was the district’s alcohol and drug policy, which prohibits students from carrying Narcan on campus because it is considered a controlled substance. Students said it felt like 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 wearing it,” said Hays Stritikus.

Cheser said the district needed to develop a separate policy just for opiate antagonists so students would not violate the policy of wearing Narcan.

The 9-R Board made no decision on whether the students could wear Narcan, but urged the students to keep fighting for their cause.

Board Treasurer Rick Petersen urged students to reach out to Colorado state officials and senators to ensure their voices are heard at the state level.

Ilias Stritikus said the dialogue had been positive and students would continue to attend school board meetings until they were able to wear Narcan at school.

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