Early last month, the university gave Greek organizations on campus doses of Narcan, the over-the-counter drug meant to reverse effects of opioid overdoses. Members also received training on how to administer the drug. Having the drug in every sorority house was a part of an Associated Student Body initiative with the goal of preventing drug overdoses in the university community and destigmatizing discussions around student substance abuse.
Substance abuse has been a growing issue in the United States over the past few years. In June 2020, the CDC stated that 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance abuse to cope with stress caused by the pandemic. Its effects have even been felt here in Oxford, with a recent increase in DUI and drug overdose rates. Still, effects on the college community are often overlooked.
“I think that we have to be reactive, and ideally, we want to be in a place that’s proactive, so that’s why we ended up with the Narcan initiative,” Gabby Hunter, outgoing ASB Judicial Chair, said. “It was spurred by events in Oxford that were very close to the university’s hearts, but we wanted to make sure that we were preventing any other deaths or any other harm to students in the future as much as we could.”
Hunter is the founder of the Drug and Alcohol Policy committee in ASB, a group of six members that push for student drug sanction reforms, mental health and substance abuse education.
Narcan, chemically known as naloxone, is an over-the-counter nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Even one spray can delay a reaction long enough for an ambulance to arrive and administer another dose, though the effects of Narcan can wear off after several hours.
Originally, the idea was not bound to only Greek organizations, but student housing as well. After exploring possibilities and working with administration, it became evident that the most accessible step would be to test their plan with Greek houses first. After presenting the ideas to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the plan was greenlit and has been implemented.
The initiative, though beginning with Greek organizations, is not targeting a problem specific to fraternities and sororities, according to Hunter.
“The Greek community has dealt with a lot of these issues in the past. They’ve seen the effects,” Hunter said. “This is not a problem unique to the Greek community at all.”
Though Hunter is leaving her position and said she cannot address anything specifically, she hopes that the initiative progresses to where Narcan can be distributed in student housing and other places on campus.
The Drug and Alcohol Policy committee will continue to push the initiative to the rest of campus as junior Autumn Fortenberry assumes her role as Judicial Chair for the 2021-2022 school year.
“We are in the process of evaluating the feasibility of having Narcan in other campus housing facilities, and we hope to make strides in that over the course of the next term,” Fortenberry said in a text. “If approved, this would require training staff members to administer Narcan and educating residents on its purpose or how to access the drug.”
While the university is not yet introducing Narcan to university facilities, Grace McKissick, the Panhellenic Council president, echoed a wider scope of goals for the initiative.
“I think ASB and (CPH) would both love for Greek houses to be the place it begins, but not the place that it ends,” McKissick said.
Narcan is fast-acting and capable of pulling an individual out of overdose symptoms in as quick as two minutes after a single dose, depending on the amount of substance consumed. Training centered on how to identify an overdose, how to administer the drug and its effect, eventually opening up to a greater conversation around mental health.
For McKissick, the need to start a more personal narrative with those seeking help is crucial, as sometimes the greater general discussion may not break through to someone who truly needs help with substance abuse.
Having doses of Narcan on campus also serves as an acknowledgment of substance abuse on the college campus.
“It’s kind of like car insurance. Hopefully you never have to use it, but it’s really good to have it if you have a wreck,” Melody Madaris, assistant director at Communicare Oxford, said.
Communicare, a north Mississippi mental health and wellness center, was the key partner in getting the Narcan initiative off the ground. The group covers a wide range of services, one of them being substance abuse treatment.
Typically Narcan runs at $150 a dose, and houses will have multiple doses. Because of Communicare’s involvement, Narcan was supplied for free, funded completely by a substance abuse and mental health administration grant.
Madaris worked closely with campus organizations and UPD to assemble the program, helping to run the hour long training courses conducted through Communicare.
“Nobody was sitting there scrolling through their phone. They were actually very engaged in the training, Madaris said. “I enjoyed it, and I really appreciate all the engagement.”
When given the chance to lead a session, she took the time to address suicide rates among college students, particularly those caused by opioid abuse. Most overdoses are caused after the consumption of substances most commonly laced with the illegally manufactured drug fentanyl. University student Jack Holiman died last fall of a fentanyl overdose.
According to Madaris, 50% of students will be offered an opioid by the time they are a sophomore.
“Society in general, has always swept that under the rug, and we don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to admit that it’s happening,” Madaris said. “The more it stays under the rug, the more shame that’s associated with it, which in turn causes people not to reach out for help.”