DENVER (KDVR) – In an effort to reverse, or at least stem, the aggressive spread of the opioid epidemic, the largest school district in the state has decided to stock up on a tool known for halting some overdoses in an instance.

According to officials at Denver Public Schools, they plan to stock up on Narcan, a brand name for the drug naloxone, the nasal spray medication capable of reversing an overdose resulting from opioid use.

“We have had an increase in our students obtaining drugs that may be laced with fentanyl, creating a higher potential overdose,” said Julie Wilken, the DPS director of nursing and student health. “We want to be prepared for that in the school setting and be able to have the opioid antagonist Narcan on hand.”

The change in the school district’s approach to the health crisis can likely be attributed to the recent surge in deaths that resulted from opioid use. According to Wilken, 46 minors aged 18 and under, have died from an overdose in the state of Colorado within the last year, and 35 of those were confirmed to be the result of fentanyl.

According to Wilken, after returning from the pandemic, students are using drugs more frequently, with many unable to make it through the school day without needing to address their addiction.

How DPS trains its staff to administer Narcan

“[Narcan] is an intranasal spray, so it’s really easy to train,” Wilken explained.

According to the district’s policy, the plan is to get the registered nurses trained in how to properly identify an overdose and subsequently treat a student experiencing one with Narcan. Once trained, the nurse in each school would then pass that training along to the staff at the school they work in.

“You never know what anyone has ingested, so knowing the symptoms of what the overdose could look like is how we respond,” Wilken said. She said it’s important to be armed with information that can help speed up the process of identifying an overdose and responding appropriately.

Some may raise concerns in regard to what happens when one of these trained nurses or staff members incorrectly identifies a health emergency as an overdose and proceeds to use Narcan on the student.

“If they didn’t require Narcan, [and] it wasn’t an overdose,” Wilken said, “when they come out of their unconscious level, it will not hurt them.”

Colorado’s free naloxone program

The state has been a provider of the internasal spray for schools enrolled in the program, free of charge.

Denver’s school district is not alone in getting the life-saving medication on campuses. Currently, six other school districts in the state are part of the free Narcan program, with more than a dozen planning to begin the application process.

Thanks to the passing of SB19-227, otherwise known as the Naloxone Bulk Purchase Fund Opportunity, eligible entities include:

  • Local public health agencies
  • School districts
  • Harm reduction agencies
  • Law enforcement
  • Entities with publicly accessible automated external defibrillators, which include but are not limited to recreation centers, shopping centers and workplaces

If you oversee or are part of one of these eligible organizations and would like to apply to the program, you can fill out the online application. If you have any additional questions in regards to the program, email odprevention@state.co.us.