The Collegian
Monday, February 26, 2024

UR plans to change inaccessibility of Narcan

University of Richmond Police Chief Dave McCoy is on a mission: Along with the lifesaving tools like automated external defibrillators that save people from heart attacks and fire extinguishers that put out flames, he wants to have a lifesaving drug that reverses opioid overdose, called naloxone, accessible to every student.

“Our goal is to expand [naloxone access] through our students,” McCoy said, adding that he wants student emergency technicians to carry naloxone. 

In Virginia, almost 2,500 people died of an overdose in 2022, according to the CDC. McCoy and officials at other Virginia universities and high schools see the trend in overdoses as a threat to student safety. He believes all students should learn to administer naloxone, commonly referred to by the brand name Narcan. 

Naloxone is administered via injection or by nasal spray and works within minutes. It is a temporary treatment, and medical intervention after revival is imperative, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Awareness and access to naloxone have increased since it was approved for over-the-counter use in March 2023 by the FDA specifically to reverse drug overdose. But McCoy fears that education and access to this life-saving medication has yet to arrive in a coordinated fashion at UR. 

“The more folks [who] are exposed to it, the more normalized it becomes,” McCoy said. “We hope you never have to use it, but in the event that you do, you know what to do with it because you may need to potentially save somebody’s life.” 

The executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, Dana Schrad, said that the abuse of prescription and illicit drugs was common on college campuses. The 2022 Monitoring the Future survey from the University of Michigan found that 11% of college students had recreationally used illicit drugs such as hallucinogens, cocaine, amphetamines, sedatives, tranquilizers and narcotics. 

“We have a large number of people who are drug dependent and on some kind of opioid,” Schrad said of addiction to both prescription and illicitly produced painkillers. “Naloxone has proven to be a lifesaver in those instances when someone does overdose, particularly on some of the opioids that are out there.” 

At UR, drug use is often masked with alcohol consumption, McCoy said. Students will report that they believe their alcohol was spiked, he said. While this does occur, a study published in the journal of Psychology of Violence found that it only happens in 8% of cases. 

UR is better known for its alcohol consumption than drug use and is listed at No. 6 for “lots of beer” by the Princeton Review, which has led McCoy to believe students who say their drink was spiked. McCoy wants to make sure students know their well-being is prioritized by URPD before legal repercussions for alcohol and drug use. 

McCoy said that naloxone has been administered on campus by URPD officers a few times, including a recent event in which he used it to revive a contractor who overdosed while on campus. The contractor quickly woke up after a single dose, he said. 

McCoy said student incidents of drug overdose are rare on campus, but he believes everyone needs to be prepared for them. “Out of sight doesn’t mean it’s out of mind, right?” McCoy said. 

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

Students only let McCoy know so much, he said. So, he’d rather they be prepared and have the knowledge and tools to help save their peers. 

***

UR Junior Sarah Marsden told The Collegian she witnessed what she believed was a near-overdose last year. She now regularly carries naloxone but said most students think she’s too cautious. 

“People never want to think about the worst-case scenario,” Marsden said. “They never want to think about like, ‘Oh my god, am I ever going to have to use this? What if somebody needs to use it on me?’”

Marsden said she sees students using illicit drugs like cocaine. She fears that could lead to the use of other drugs like narcotics. She believes eventually someone will die of an overdose. A study at the West Virginia University of Medicine found that 6% of students in a sample of around 4,000 students witnessed an overdose within the past year.

“So many other drugs are coming in and without even realizing it, they’re doing more and more and more until eventually one of them kills,” Marsden said. 

Experimentation is what takes so many lives, McCoy said. McCoy worries that students will experiment with illicit drugs, which makes them vulnerable if they don’t do their research. 

Evidence from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that fentanyl is the leading cause of fatal overdose, which is why McCoy suggests that anyone experimenting with drugs use fentanyl testing strips to see if it is present. If it is, the drugs should be discarded. 

“That’s my number one concern – fentanyl kills, no doubt about it,” McCoy said. “And if you don’t test and you absorb it, there’s a strong likelihood you’re not going to be there in a couple hours.”

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics found that fentanyl was a factor in 53% of overdose deaths nationwide. It is 50 to 300 times more potent than morphine. 

Fentanyl is right off campus, McCoy said. It is being pressed into pills and sold less than 20 minutes from UR, he said. DEA lab testing found that six out of 10 street pills, disguised as prescription pills, contain a lethal dosage of fentanyl. 

“That’s what is so scary,” McCoy said of college student drug experimentation. “It’s their first and last use.”

Sarah King, UR’s recovery support specialist and a person in recovery from substance use disorder said that for her, prescription sharing was the start of her addiction. 

“We have the resources and capacity to offer support to folks, should they need help with starting recovery,” King said. “But there’s little interaction on that front.” 

Those with anxiety and depression may also be susceptible to opioid use according to new unpublished research by Courtney Blondino, an epidemiologist at UR.  

Blondino found that in her study of participants with anxiety or depression, those in the 18 to 24-year-old age group were 10 times more likely to abuse opioids when compared to others. 

“We are lacking in Virginia, as most states are, in the number of mental health professionals that we really need to provide emergency care services,” Schrad of the Association of Chiefs of Police said. 

To combat the increased risk for many students struggling with their mental health, measures are being taken by UR. 

“People can always contact me. I do walk-in training [for naloxone administration],” King said. “We distribute [naloxone] to everyone who is training on what the signs and symptoms of an overdose are. How to administer naloxone is very straightforward.”

McCoy wants everyone on campus to know what naloxone is and that it is a life-saving drug against opioids. 

King said the training only takes around 30 minutes. It just takes someone who wants to help others, she said. 

“If there’s ever a question as to whether something is potentially an overdose, there’s no harm in administering the [naloxone],” King said. “Just go ahead and do it, there’s no negative consequences for it.”

Administration of naloxone is one of the steps that needs to be taken to help with an overdose. Naloxone binds to opioid receptors in the brain and reverses the effects, but with enough drugs in the body, it may take more than just one dose to revive someone. The drug also immediately causes withdrawal and only lasts around 30 minutes. People may wake up disoriented and are often in need of medical attention, or they may immediately find other drugs to relieve their withdrawal symptoms. 

“Someone may think ‘Oh, I have Narcan, I don’t need to call 911.’ And that’s the worst thing that you can do because Narcan is a short-acting antidote,” King said.

Even if a student has naloxone, McCoy doesn’t want them to be scared to call URPD. If they witness an overdose or concerning behavior from a peer, he wants to hear from them. URPD is there to preserve lives before all else, he said. 

The Safe Spiders Protocol states that student health and safety are the primary concern for URPD. Students will face no charge if they proactively seek medical assistance when alcohol, tobacco or other drugs are being used.  

“That fear of reprisal should not be the first thing you think about,” McCoy said. “It should be the fact that there’s a person that’s unresponsive, and how do we revive them?”

Contact executive co-editor Amy Jablonski at amy.jablonski@richmond.edu

Support independent student media

You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.

Donate Now