A group of nursing students is working to get a lifesaving drug overdose antidote into the hands of the Southern Oregon University community.
Free naloxone will be given away from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday in the Rogue River Room of the Stevenson Union building on SOU’s Ashland campus. Students, faculty, staff and any other interested community members can watch a short training video on how to use the antidote, then pick up their own kit with naloxone.
Naloxone, sold as a nasal spray under the brand name Narcan, can quickly restore breathing in someone who has overdosed on opioids, which include prescription pain medicine like OxyContin and Vicodin or street drugs like heroin.
Jackson County has been hard-hit by the national opioid overdose crisis, with 10 people dying of suspected opioid overdoses this spring. The county was struck by another rash of overdoses in September — although those who overdosed survived after being given naloxone by police, paramedics and others carrying the antidote.
No area is immune to the epidemic, said Lauren Jones, an Oregon Health & Science University student at SOU who is helping to organize the antidote distribution event as part of a leadership project.
“We don’t live in a bubble here in Ashland,” she said. “The SOU campus is not a bubble.”
The nursing students want to get naloxone into the hands of students, campus security workers and others. They also want the nasal spray available on campus where automated external defibrillators are stored. Defibrillators shock the heart back into a normal heartbeat rhythm.
Jones said she wants to increase awareness about naloxone and help reduce any stigma associated with carrying the antidote.
Fellow nursing student Nabha Goldfeder said people are at risk of overdosing even if they were only prescribed an opioid pain medication for a wisdom tooth extraction or sports injury.
She compared naloxone to a fire extinguisher.
Even if a person doesn’t use matches, lighters, cigarettes or candles, knowing where a fire extinguisher is and how to use it could save a life, Goldfeder said.
Having naloxone on hand and knowing how to use it could also be life-saving.
“You may not realize that your friends or a community member or a parent or a grandparent are taking opioids for whatever reason,” Goldfeder said.
Administering naloxone is as easy as giving a dose of decongestant nasal spray.
“It’s incredibly easy. It’s literally just a nasal spray. You put it up one nostril and squirt,” Goldfeder said.
While there always has been a risk that opioids can suppress breathing and cause death, using opioids has become even more dangerous in the last several years.
Dealers have begun mixing the potentially deadly, highly potent drug fentanyl into heroin and counterfeit pain pills. A fatal dose of fentanyl is so small it would only cover President Abraham Lincoln’s face on a penny.
Jones said fentanyl is 50 to 100 times as potent as morphine.
In 2017, a record 72,000 people in America died of overdoses from prescription and street drugs, with nearly 30,000 of those deaths linked to fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 19,000 people died from non-fentanyl opioid pain relievers, surpassing the nearly 16,000 killed by heroin, the federal agency reports.
Most other overdose deaths were attributed to cocaine and benzodiazepine, a sedative.
Narcan kits come with two doses of naloxone in two nasal spray dispensers. If the first squirt of nasal spray doesn’t revive someone, the second dose should be administered. People helping the overdose victim should also call 911 for emergency medical care.
Oregon law shields people from prosecution for many types of drug crimes if they call 911 to report an overdose.
The overdose antidote distribution event is being done with help from the HIV Alliance and Max’s Mission, a local nonprofit started by Julia and David Pinsky after their son and three other young men died of overdoses in the Ashland area during winter 2012-2013.