By Shanna O’Mara
Following a national trend of opioid use and thousands of unfortunate overdoses each year, staff members at Rider are taking an extra step to protect those on campus. Public Safety officers now carry a kit containing Narcan, an antidote to opioid overdose, in each of their cars to potentially resuscitate someone who is in danger after using drugs such as heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.
“The initiator for this was the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office for our particular area,” Public Safety Coordinator Mike Yeh said. “They said they were going to fund Narcan kits for police departments in the county. Director [of Public Safety Vickie] Weaver and I, having a very close contact with the Prosecutor’s Office, said, ‘What about the universities in the county?’ and the prosecutor said, ‘That’s a fantastic idea.’”
In Nov. 2014, both Rider campuses began carrying Narcan, and others soon to follow include The College of New Jersey, Princeton and Mercer County Community College.
“[Narcan] is now used in the community to treat overdose,” Elizabeth Luciano, assistant director of the Student Health Center, said. “[Narcan] is a prescription drug that comes in both injection and a nasal spray that can temporarily reverse the effects of drug overdose. If it is used in time, it can save lives.”
Weaver said all officers have been through a training process on how to administer Narcan.
According to Luciano, symptoms of overdose include slowed or no breathing, very small or pinpoint pupils in the eyes, slow heartbeats or extreme drowsiness. This is especially true if the person cannot be woken.
“We’re taught to apply it anyway because it may be absorbed even if they’re not breathing,” Yeh said.
The powerful drug is designed to be used in emergency situations but is not the final solution.
“It has a short half-life [or period of time required for the concentration or amount of drug in the body to be reduced by one-half], therefore, it may need to be repeated every two to three minutes if symptoms reoccur,” Luciano said. “An ambulance needs to be called and CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] might need to be initiated as well if the person is not breathing or there is no pulse. The patient needs to be transported to the hospital for further care.”
Repeating aplication of the antidote cannot harm the patient, according to Yeh, because Narcan has been vigorously tested and approved.
“It is a safe drug that has gone through the regular FDA [Food and Drug Administration] process, and through evaluations of the drug, they have realized that there are no side effects to the Narcan, so with that understanding and understanding the impact it may have on someone who’s not breathing, it’s a no-brainer,” Yeh said.
Narcan was invented in 1961 at a small lab in New York City by Jack Fishman, a Polish immigrant who later lost his stepson to a heroin overdose.
Since its invention, the drug has saved tens of thousands of lives, and in June 2015, the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) recommended that all schools carry Narcan. According to The Guardian, five states have since passed laws allowing the drug to be used in emergency situations in schools after NASN President Beth Mattey referred to opioid prevalence in this country as “an epidemic.”
“In a survey of 81 Rhode Island nurses who participated in a [Narcan] training program in 2014, 43 percent of high school nurses said that students in their schools were abusing opioids, and 15 percent said they had to call 9-1-1 at least once in the past three years for suspected student substance use or overdose,” according to thefix.com.
In May 2016, the state New Jersey Department of Education sent a letter to school administrators recommending that Narcan be included in district emergency response procedures. Nurses in more than 200 school districts in Massachusetts have been trained to use Narcan, and according to The Press of Atlantic City, this precaution is moving into New Jersey. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo of Atlantic County recently proposed a bill that would require first responders, hospital staff members and school nurses to keep a supply of Narcan for cases of opioid overdose.
“I just think it is a proactive choice,” Mazzeo told The Press of Atlantic City. “We are facing a heroin epidemic, and if we can save one life in a school, it’s worth it. The cost of Narcan is not that high.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the drug is most commonly used on people between the age of 20 and 29. This highlights the need for Narcan on college and university campuses such as Rider. In 2016, the antidote has been used roughly 21.8 times a day nationwide, and it will have been used nearly 8,000 times by year’s end, according to The Times of Trenton.
“Since 2014, New Jersey emergency officials have deployed opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan more than 18,000 times,” Stephen Stirling wrote. “So far, in 2016, the life-saving drug has been deployed an average of 21.8 times a day, putting it on pace to be utilized nearly 8,000 times by year’s end. That’s more than one use per county, every day.”
Although officers have not had to use the drug on any student, the precautionary measure is necessary to maintain the safety of those on campus.
“It’s one of those things where you never know if something is going to happen, if somebody goes down with a medical emergency, the more tools and supplies you can have at your readiness to assist someone, the better off everybody is,” Weaver said. “The more training we can get, the more supplies we are able to carry, we’re in a better position to serve out community. We want to be prepared for emergencies.”