Campus Safety and the Opioid Epidemic
Today’s law enforcement officers have multiple roles. They are expected not just to enforce laws and protect life, they are also entrusted to contribute to the intervention, education and recovery of those addicted.
- By Wesley Bian
- October 14, 2019
Opioids on Campus
Drug and alcohol problems have always occupied campus safety officers. As many know, the prime drug using years are the late teenage through young adult ages. A variety of factors, such as leaving home for the first time, peer pressure, a culture of experimentation, emotional troubles and easy access to prescription opioids all contribute to this trend.
The rising opioid crisis has ravaged communities across the country with overdose death reaching more than 70,000 according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This parallels the extent of the problem among college students. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that opioid-related deaths among Americans age 24 and younger almost doubled from 2005 to 2015, while the number of opioid-related emergency room visits by young people nearly doubled over five years. From student athletes prescribed painkillers for injuries to stressed-out students looking to relax, many students are especially vulnerable to opioid use. Prescription pills like Vicodin are frequently taken as relaxants. Students act as mixologists, creating dangerous drug and alcohol cocktails for themselves and friends, without realizing that overuse and mixed use can alter impact and lead to death.
Countermeasures To Stem the Tide
Law enforcement agencies, including the campus safety officials, are the tip of the spear in fighting the opioid epidemic. Among the overdose-fighting tools, naloxone stands out as the life-saving antidote of choice. Important public health figures, including the Surgeon General of the U.S., have pushed for the availability of Narcan, a nasal spray form of naloxone. Narcan’s versatility comes from the fact that anyone can administer it without medical training.An increasing number of universities have equipped their campus safety officers with Narcan kits.
Many organizations around the country have recognized the necessity for Narcan availability on college campuses. To ensure that every university can obtain Narcan regardless of their financial situation, a plethora of initiatives to distribute it for free have popped up.The NASN (National Association of School Nurses), distributes a free Naloxone in schools' toolkit. AdaptPharma, the company behind Narcan, has also started a free distribution program for schools. Finally, the Clinton Foundation has its own program, where all Title-IV universities can receive four free Narcan kits.
However, despite their dedication to their campuses, officers cannot possibly stand ready at every single opioid overdose. The use of naloxone kits should not end with officers and emergency medical workers. A survey by the Hezelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy and The Christie Foundation found that, while over 30 percent of college students said they knew someone who had overdosed on pain pills or heroin, over 37 percent of them reported not knowing what to do if they were present. Thus, education about the risks of opioid use, outreach and support for community-based harm reduction organizations go a long way to preventing addiction. Individual states have urged colleges to take action. New York and Colorado are earmarking millions of dollars to their public colleges for prevention education and research. Maryland now requires colleges and universities to offer new students a drug prevention class that focuses on the risks of opioid use. New Jersey announced an increase of $1 million for recovery dorms on public campuses in the state.
Also, there is a growing movement in higher education and beyond to get Narcan in the hands of actual opioid users and people who are most likely to witness an overdose, such as roommates, resident assistants, family members, friends and even strangers. Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts made Narcan publicly available in about 50 defibrillator cases in nearly every building on campus.The Veterans Administration has moved to add naloxone kits to the AED cabinets in its buildings across the country based on the successful pilot project in Boston.
CDC’s research shows that most overdose reversals are performed by the users themselves and people they know. In fact, less than five percent of overdose reversals are performed by law enforcement. Therefore, naloxone kits stocked in campus health clinics and officers with Narcan, while helpful, have limited impact, because the window to respond to and reverse an overdose is so short -- literally minutes.
Partnerships with Public Health and the Community
Today’s law enforcement officers have multiple roles. They are expected not just to enforce laws and protect life, they are also entrusted to contribute to the intervention, education and recovery of those addicted. Effectivetreatment depends on keeping drug abusers alive. Thus, law enforcement has a large role in helping forge the path to treatment for those with drug use disorders by working with public health agencies and the community based harm reduction organizations.
This model has proven itself successful in places like Arlington, TX and Quincy, MA. In Quincy, the police department partnered with several rehabilitation clinics. Drug buyers are directed to these programs to either receive a free evaluation or to enroll in them. In Arlington, officers often hold a public meeting along with a medical professional to educate their community about drug use and the ways to combat it.
Increased collaboration with community partners can happen on college campuses as well. Many schools have established health professionals on site and contacts with outside recovery services that provide treatment tailored to the college demographic. Sober living dorms such as the Haven at College at numerous colleges, have proven themselves successful and could serve as a partner for campus safety.
It truly takes a village to stem or even reverse this tide of opioid crisis. Through accessibility to Narcan, and partnerships with the community, the epidemic that is opioid use can be stopped.