The Logical Next Step: Naloxone Kits on Campus
Opinions / September 28, 2017
KPU should follow other universities’ lead in making overdose prevention methods accessible for students
By Braden Klassen, Photo Editor
In an effort to prevent deaths due to opioid overdoses, Nova Scotia universities have begun to acquire Naloxone kits for inclusion in their standard first-aid kits, and are training students and staff on how to administer the drug.
Naloxone is an injection-based treatment similar in function to an EpiPen. It works by pushing opioid agonists out of the corresponding receptors in the central nervous system and binding to the receptors themselves. This reverses the effects of an overdose, and has a high chance of saving the user’s life.
It’s kind of like playing a game of musical chairs, where the receptors in the brain are the chairs, the contestants are opioid chemicals and Naloxone, and Naloxone is guaranteed to win every single time.
Naloxone can also be administered through Narcan nasal spray, a small and simple device which was developed to provide a quick-response emergency dose to overdose victims. Despite its effectiveness, however, doctors emphasize that the drug is not a panacea, and is only meant to help buy some time until paramedics arrive.
UBC has a program that provides take-home overdose kits to students for free, so why doesn’t KPU? It seems that the common perception is that overdoses occur so rarely among student populations that making Naloxone a standard addition to first-aid kits goes above and beyond the necessary efforts to prepare for emergency situations. In other words, it’s unnecessary. Even if that is the case for now, statistics are showing that the overdose epidemic is growing rapidly, predominantly in B.C., and seems likely to reach even more monstrous proportions before it’s brought under control.
EpiPens are standard for first-aid kits, yet Naloxone still isn’t, although overdose deaths outnumber deaths due to anaphylaxis by a considerable margin. It is difficult to find recent statistics about deaths preventable by EpiPen, but a study from 2011 revealed that there were 92 deaths in Ontario between 1986-2011. In contrast, there were more than 500 deaths associated with opioid use in Ontario in 2011 alone, as reported by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network. That number has increased substantially since then.
In 2015 The Toronto Star reported that more than 700 Ontarians died that year due to opioid overdoses. For context, this year in B.C., that number had already been surpassed by June. Now it’s looking like it will exceed 1,000 deaths by the end of the year.
Can you imagine if any of the more sensationalized diseases of the past had become responsible for that many fatalities? If Ebola, Swine Flu, West Nile virus, or even SARS were responsible for over 1,000 deaths a year—in one province alone—there would be national panic, and a frenetic response from the government on the federal and provincial level.
The overdose death epidemic is not only comparable, but worse. Exactly which aspect of the crisis can we point to in order to justify the public’s relative indifference toward this issue compared to others? For something so demonstrably preventable, the death toll is much higher than it should be in this country. Who else has to die for this to be addressed on a level that truly befits the gravity of the problem?
To be fair, some members of the KPU community have raised concerns about provincial overdoses. The Kwantlen Students for Sensible Drug Policy group has been consistently vocal about the opioid crisis and in January, Natasha Lopes, the then-Kwantlen Student Association VP of Student Life, hosted a fundraiser for the Overdose Prevention Society. For KPU administration, creating policy that makes Naloxone or Narcan kits available to students is a logical next step forward.
Adding Naloxone to first aid kits and training personnel how to use it—not just on campuses, but everywhere—is a no-brainer. There’s no plausible excuse not to. It’s inexpensive, risk-free, easy to implement the policy, and even easier to use.