Colorado Springs School District 11, impacted by overdose deaths in recent years, joins battle against fentanyl – Colorado Springs Gazette

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From left: Cory Notestine, District 11’s executive director of student success and wellness; Children’s Hospital of Colorado therapist Heather Lea; Project Aware coordinator Nicole Herrera; and school nurse lead Bobbi Lahey explain the scope and proximity of the fentanyl crisis in an informational video.
During a February meeting, D-11’s Board of Education unanimously approved revisions to its first-aid and emergency medical care policy to allow Narcan to be stored in district schools.

From left: Cory Notestine, District 11’s executive director of student success and wellness; Children’s Hospital of Colorado therapist Heather Lea; Project Aware coordinator Nicole Herrera; and school nurse lead Bobbi Lahey explain the scope and proximity of the fentanyl crisis in an informational video.
During a February meeting, D-11’s Board of Education unanimously approved revisions to its first-aid and emergency medical care policy to allow Narcan to be stored in district schools.
A Colorado Springs school district is going on the offensive in the fight against the fast-growing fentanyl crisis in the city, the state and the nation.
District 11, which has been impacted by overdose deaths in recent years, has launched its Fake and Fatal campaign, an initiative focused on educating and training staff members, students and families about the dangers of the synthetic opioid.
“We are hoping to get out ahead of this crisis and hopefully avoid more deaths,” district spokeswoman Devra Ashby said of the project.
The initial phase of the campaign, Ashby said, is to educate and train teachers and other employees about the seriousness of the fentanyl crisis and what they can do to combat it.
The district has produced a comprehensive awareness video outlining the scope of the crisis in Colorado Springs and El Paso County, the lethality of the drug, and how easy it is to obtain. It also alerts staff members to the warning signs of an opioid overdose and what to do if one occurs.
“We recognize that we must start to prepare ourselves and be ready for an increased rise within our own community,” said Cory Notestine, D-11’s executive director of student success and wellness. “We want to get in front of this.”
As the video explains, the rise in opioid deaths among teens is too complex to pin on a single cause, but many health care professionals believe the emotional upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to be a major factor.
Colorado Children’s Hospital has identified a growing mental health crisis in children and teens across the state, exacerbated by feelings of isolation and hopelessness brought on by the pandemic. Because many youths haven’t yet developed coping mechanisms, their mental health struggles often manifest in complex and harmful ways. Some youths internalize their pain. Some act aggressively, taking their pain out on others. And some turn to drugs.
“We’ve seen an elevated use of illegal substances to cope with the world that (teens) are living through,” Notestine said. “Several of our youth have engaged in illegal drugs that have caused overdoses, both in our community and within our school communities, and several of those students have lost their lives.”
A drug that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, fentanyl has become frighteningly simple to buy. Many drugs are being sold on social media, meaning just about any teen with a little money and a working Wi-Fi connection can obtain illegal drugs, the D-11 video explains, “as easy as ordering a pizza.”
Additionally, because drug dealers are now selling fentanyl in the guise of other drugs like oxycontin and Xanax, many people are ingesting the deadly drug without knowing it.
“Fentanyl is being manufactured at extremely low cost, distributed to cartels and other nefarious individuals to be pressed into other pills, such as Percocet,” Notestine says in the video.
“These other drugs are now being laced with lethal doses of fentanyl, unbeknownst to the purchaser.”
Law enforcement officials believe this is how five people died in a Commerce City apartment last month in what is thought to be the largest mass fentanyl overdose in the U.S. The victims thought they were using cocaine, officials said.
The 2021 statistics are expected to be available in May, but Colorado’s 2020 overdose numbers are staggering. State health data show there were 10 times as many overdoses involving fentanyl in 2020 than there were just four years earlier. Opioid deaths saw a 54% increase in 2020, and fentanyl was a factor in nearly 70% of opioid deaths in the state.
The next phase of the Fake and Fatal initiative, beginning this week, will be to make students and their families aware of the size and breadth of the problem District 11 is trying to combat, Notestine said.
During its Feb. 23 meeting, D-11’s Board of Education unanimously approved revisions to its first-aid and emergency medical care policy to allow Narcan to be stored in district schools and used by trained employees in case of an opioid overdose.
Narcan — or naloxone — is an “opioid antagonist” that can reverse the effects of an overdose if administered properly and soon enough after the event.
“This is a serious issue throughout El Paso County,” said board President Parth Melpakam. “We wanted to make sure our students are safe and protected on our campuses. (Narcan) is an important resource our staff can use to keep our students safe and healthy.”
The board also recommended a policy revision that includes the administration of Narcan in the liability exemptions listed under the “Good Samaritan” law, which exists to shield people from being sued if they give emergency aid to an injured person.
Narcan is not yet available in all D-11 schools, but school nurse lead Bobbi Lahey said several schools have already requested to have a supply on campus, and many district employees have requested to be trained in its proper use.
“Obviously, we hope never to have to use it,” Lahey said. “But it’s important to have it in stock and to have staff members trained to use it. We hope to eventually have it in every building.”
District officials hope that increased awareness of the seriousness and proximity of the fentanyl crisis will help avoid unnecessary deaths, Notestine said.
“Yes, this has become a national problem, but we need to fight it at the local level,” he said.
“The fentanyl crisis is very real, and it’s right here in our community.”

Among the lesser known parts of the public safety package being pushed by Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic lawmakers is ramping up the capabilities of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and more than doubling the force’s size in three years, particularly as law enforcement agencies grapple with a fentanyl-induced overdose crisis.
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