Colleges train to reverse opioid overdoses

Officials put naloxone within easy reach of students for emergency use

The drug that reverses opioid overdoses needs to be in the hands of the people on campus who are most likely to respond to an emergency, experts say.

Because those responders tend to be students themselves, training is underway at colleges and universities to teach more people how to administer naloxone, commonly known by one of its brand names, Narcan.

“Naloxone that is locked away in a cabinet at university health services or in the pharmacy is not going to be there when somebody needs it,” says Lucas G. Hill, a clinical assistant professor at The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy.

Sidebar: Know the signs of opioid overdose

“Proactive outreach and education, and stocking naloxone in public spaces—just like fire extinguishers and AEDs—is the way to save students lives.”

The drug is stored on every floor of every dorm at the Austin campus and all campus police officers carry it.

Operation Naloxone—which teaches pharmacy students how to train other students to use the drug—is the university’s most critical initiative, Hill says. About 600 students have participated in trainings at major off-campus housing complexes. Pharmacy students also hand out doses of the drug.

“When we go to them, students are more comfortable asking tough questions,” says Hill, adding that several other Texas institutions have recently adopted the Operation Naloxone model. “We can answer hard questions because students are more honest when they know each other, as opposed to being in a big audience full of strangers.”

In public and prominent

Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts has placed Narcan in about 50 public locations on campus, including in automatic external defibrillator boxes.

Its home county, Plymouth, has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic—about 1,800 people overdosed on opioids such as fentanyl and heroin in 2017, Bridgewater State Police Chief David Tillinghast says.

Since the start of the 2017-18 school year, the university’s police force, led by Detective Sergeant Robert McEvoy, has trained about 1,000 students, faculty, staff and local residents to use Narcan and to identify the signs of an overdose. The university also trains all of its RAs and equips them with the drug.

The education itself serves as a form of prevention, Tillinghast says. “People who abuse opioids a lot of times don’t seek help because of the social stigma,” he says. “By us having these trainings on campus, people are more open to talking about it.”

Awareness and recovery

About 300 people, including students, have been trained over the last two years at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Administering the drug is pretty simple, but the sessions help in overcoming any anxiety about trying to reverse an overdose, says Teresa Wren Johnston, assistant dean of students and executive director of the university’s Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery.

Participants also learn about treatment resources, so they can pass it on to people who have overdosed, says Lindsay Montgomery, the center’s prevention education coordinator. “The more hands we can get naloxone into, the more people have a chance at recovery.” 

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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