Walk around any college campus these days and you’d be hard pressed to not be able to find free condoms. They’re pretty much plentiful everywhere- strewn across tables in student health clinic waiting rooms, spilling out of giant fish bowls in dorm room common areas, and always stocked in campus restrooms and fitness center locker rooms. Let’s just say if a student is struggling to find a free condom (or ten) on campus, than dare I say they should not be having sex in the first place.
But while the great majority of colleges campuses are eager and willing to assist their students in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, only a select few have entered into a very new but vitally important aspect of student wellness and care- that of preventing opioid overdose.
Most of us are now becoming frighteningly aware of the fact our young people are overdosing on opioids, heroine, and fentanyl laced opioids at an alarming rate, quadrupling in the last decade in fact- but few are aware there exists a rescue medication that can reverse the effects of those drugs, especially when a fatal overdose appears to have been taken.
Naloxene, known by it’s brand name Narcan®, is an opioid receptor antagonist medication that can eliminate all signs of opioid intoxication to reverse an opioid overdose- including opioids such as heroin, methadone, morphine, opium, codeine, or hydrocodone. Basically, it’s a wonder drug for preventing overdose, and even if it’s administered to someone who may appear to have overdosed with opioids but hasn’t, it has not been shown to cause any harm in those cases.
Do our college kids even know what to do in the case of an overdose?
Sadly, no, they don’t. Over 37 percent of students surveyed reported not knowing what to do if they were present, according to a Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy and The Christie Foundation study, but there is a growing movement in higher education to change that, and the availability of Narcan on campuses is an important first step.
Ideally, it would be as easy to find Narcan as it is a first aid kit or a condom. Drug education and advocacy groups are joining their efforts and lobbying for both the funding, training, and accessibility of Narcan across college campuses, not limited to health centers, campus first responders, or a campus police department, but available in campus housing units, and/or within portable defibrillator units already found across campus. Some even go so far as to say administering Narcan should be as commonly taught as CPR because both have the ability to offer someone a chance to save a life.
Scott Burris is director of the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University, and agrees. He states, “For all channels of naloxone distribution, the guiding principle should be to put the drug in the hands of actual opioid users or people most likely to be around during an overdose.” The perspective Burris and fellow advocates are making is that Narcan does little to help when it’s in the trunk of cop cars or locked away in campus health centers. Having it available situationally, as in where campus parties take place and/or in the hands of resident assistants or volunteer first responders is the most ideal, and will garner the most use.
Many colleges are already on board with Narcan, like Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, who has made Narcan available in about 50 defibrillator cases in nearly every building on campus, and trained hundreds of students, faculty, and staff on how to use it.
The University of Texas at Austin’s Operation Naloxone is providing Narcan to its college, and training facility and staff on its use. Just last month all Connecticut state universities and colleges stated that all campus police and staff would be trained and equipped with the drug, and The University of Wisconsin System recently announced it would provide nine of its campuses with free Narcan, beginning with law enforcement and security officers and eventually residential assistants in dorms.
Obviously, there is no way to prevent all opioid overdoses (nor can we prevent all STD’s and pregnancies by handing out free condoms), but don’t we owe it to our students to put into place all the mechanisms that have the potential to save lives? Hopefully all colleges will begin to follow the lead of the few that already have, and if your student’s college hasn’t yet, now is the time to contact them and ask why not.