Students at the University of Texas are being proactive when it comes to the fear of finding a friend in the throes of opioid overdose. Rather than taking the chance that emergency medical help will not arrive in time, a peer-to-peer network has developed where students are stepping up to teach each other how to administer naloxone. Started over a year ago, the program is in the process of expanding to two other universities in Texas.
The good news is that the drug is available over the counter in Texas. The somewhat shaky news is that the universities where the programs are happening have no specific policy about naloxone distribution, and there are concerns that this may change and make it more difficult for the programs to proceed.
Lucas Hill is a pharmacy professor at UT-Austin and director of a project called Operation Naloxone. He says: “The majority of the doses are likely going to go unused — that’s a good thing. Most fire extinguishers get tossed out without being used. This is similar.”
All over campus, there are fire extinguishers and defibrillators in the event of emergency, and most of them will go unused. The hope is that naloxone will be just as prolifically available and just as unused, especially since, so far, the rates of opioid overdose in Texas are far lower than some states in the northeastern US.
A Statewide Initiative
These students are not alone in their fight to help ensure that if a lifesaving dose of naloxone is needed, it is easily accessible and ready for use. A number of medical and nursing professionals working at the Texas A&M have been trained to treat an opioid overdose with naloxone and keep the medication on hand to help a student in crisis.
Martha Dannenbaum is the director of student health services at Texas A&M. She says: “We felt as a medical organization that it was best for us to ensure that everyone who might encounter this within our facility be trained. Drug use, misuse and abuse exists everywhere. It’s not just the homeless population or the poor, it’s everyone from the highest administrative areas to young people that are functional.”
Not Everyone Agrees
Though no one is in disagreement that naloxone saves lives in the event of opioid overdose, not everyone agrees that it should be so readily accessible to students on campus. Their fear is that having a reversal drug on hand may make students feel safe taking risks and enable addiction; they are concerned that addictions will continue to go untreated, and kids might experiment with prescription painkillers or heroin when they otherwise would not because they believe that the medication will be there to save them if the worst happens.
They are not entirely wrong. Naloxone is not a reason to continue using opiates. It does not necessarily provide a safety net. Just because someone has a dose of the drug, it does not mean that they will be there to administer it in time, or if they are, that one dose will be enough. Naloxone is not a replacement for treatment. The only guarantee against overdose is abstinence.
What Is Naloxone?
Naloxone, sold as Narcan, is an opioid overdose reversal drug that binds to opioid receptors in the brain, effectively “kicking off” the opiates already in the system and pausing their effect. Though it does not expel the narcotics from the body, it does provide time to get medical care, and in most cases, the effect of the drugs taken wears off before the naloxone.
Not only can naloxone buy time in the moment, it offers a second chance to those who might have lost their lives to the drug. For those experimenting with the substance, it is a demonstration that any use can be deadly. For those living with an ongoing addiction, it is an opportunity to connect with treatment and learn how to live a healthy and balanced in life in recovery.
Learning more about the treatment options that are available can be life-changing. Are you ready to find out more about treatment that can help your loved one heal?