There are no rules actively preventing schools from distributing the lifesaving drug Narcan to local students but lawyers have told local district officials they should restrict access to trained adults for fear of unspecified liability concerns.

The drug in question, Naloxone, is sold under the brand name Narcan and is used to reverse opioid overdoses caused by drugs like fentanyl and while it is already present on most campuses, officials were told last week they shouldn’t expand access until state rules provide an explicit allowance to do so.

Several members of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) board pushed back on that advice citing the urgent need to keep students safe.

“We have counsel telling us ‘oh, we’re worried something could go bad. I suggest you don’t do it.’ But someone could die. A child could die. And I’m not okay with that response,” said Boardmember Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times as potent as heroin 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the CDC. This makes it attractive to illicit drug dealers and makers because it allows them to use smaller amounts while achieving the same effects, making it more profitable and leading to a surge in counterfeit versions of other drugs actually containing fentanyl –which can be deadly in quantities as small as a few grains of sand.

Deaths related to fentanyl began to rise exponentially around 2019. Between September 2021 and September 2022, the timeframe for the most recent state data, 5,942 people died after ingesting the synthetic opioid. That accounts for about 86% of all opioid-related deaths. And of the 21,000 emergency room visits related to opioids in this same time period, about a third were linked to fentanyl.

Several Santa Monica students have died in recent years from overdoses and the District previously discussed the need for additional measures to fight the crisis. Part of those efforts was the acquisition of thousands of doses of the overdose reversal drug that have been distributed to campuses district wide. However, current state educational codes only specify how the drug can be handled by adults. The rules do not explicitly prohibit or allow distribution to students and the district has received legal advice urging them to hold off on student distribution until the Ed Code catches up to reality.

I spoke with our legal counsel in regards to this and they said that because right now the law doesn’t address student distribution, they’re advising against it due to liability reasons,” said Tara Brown Director of Student Services.

Boardmember Alicia Mignano criticized the lack of stage regulations given the drug is already widely available.

“I think this is about keeping our students safe and I think we all agree about that. It’s a little frustrating to see that Narcan has become a bit of an over the counter medication and still we are lagging…,” she said.

The Board questioned what the warning was based on given the drug has no known side effects or dangers to individuals who are not overdosing.

Brown said the lawyers advice was due entirely to a fear of potential problems if the district gave away the drug and boardmembers asked for more information about workarounds, such as distribution by student groups or the PTAs.

Superintendent Antonio Shelton said questions about third party distribution had not been part of the discussion with lawyers but he said staff would seek clarity on that idea alongside soliciting advice from medical professionals and return to the board with additional information in the future.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...