Julia Montag: Interrupting death
My conversation with Desprez left me a bit unnerved and pushed me to think about what I would do if I had to help an addicted friend. Or an overdosing friend. A 2015 study on perceptions and use of opioids intensified my worries. Among the troublesome results was the statistic that more than 37 percent of our country’s college-aged youth would not know where to go for help.
So I typed and I searched and I read, and it turns out that when opiate overdoses hit a sharp incline earlier this decade, the Clinton Foundation partnered with Adapt Pharma to equip college campuses with 40,000 free doses of the nasal spray that has life-saving properties. If given within minutes, Narcan can reverse the fatal consequences of an opioid overdose by counteracting the body’s physiological responses to the drug. Voila!
Donation programs like this one are noteworthy, as they are setting the standard for other organizations and creating a path to follow; hopefully, other companies will also want to assist in curbing addictions and overdoses.
However, as discussed by Jennifer Plum for the Washington Post, this well-intentioned program creates a false sense of security. How, she asks, does a dose of Narcan save a life when it is sitting on the shelf of a nurse’s office? “It is imperative that naloxone be placed directly with the people who are most at risk of an overdose or are most likely to witness an overdose: the roommates, family members, friends and even relative strangers,” she writes. And she’s right. Remember, Narcan must be administered within minutes to work its wonders.
Desprez had similar doubts about the Clinton-Adapt partnership; as grateful as she is for its existence, she is proud of the work that the University of Michigan has put into tailoring its Collegiate Recovery Program to well fit its student body. “If you’re going to be giving that out, make sure it is wrapped in a bundle of services – like referral and treatment.”
The University’s College Recovery Program is a support resource that stems from college administrators’ desire to assume responsibility for students in recovery and after treatment, as well as to support and nurture them to their full potential. The tenet of nationwide CRPs is that though there exist many models to abet recovery, the process is “definitely NOT a one-size-fits-all.” This is important because it means each institution needs to consider several pieces when developing a CRP that’s just right. Ours has been breeding success stories for years.
“I’m all about a lifesaving drug, but don’t just have it be a lifesaving drug,” Desprez attests. “Narcan is hugely important because it interrupts death. But it can’t just be that, because otherwise somebody will just keep using it.” Instead, Desprez maintains the importance of the University’s CRP, explaining what they do is try to coach and support students in a more holistic way.
Desprez helped me situate where the CRP falls in a recovering addict’s life. “If you can imagine, you get sent to treatment, which is great for a lot of people, but then they have to come back into the environment in which they were using.” Keeping the students healthy through recovery allows the program to accomplish one of its primary goals, which is helping students finish their college degrees.
When we spoke, I asked Desprez if a drug user’s access to Narcan is as useful as an uneducated, unprotected, sexually active teen’s access to Plan B. She laughed uneasily, but agreed with my point: “Yes, there is a danger in the moment, and a person needs care that extends beyond that dangerous moment. I think that’s a really important piece of it.”
Beyond the CRP, the University has a considerable number of resources that recovering drug users can utilize; upon request, we have recovery dorm rooms, or safe housing particularly designed for those in need of a recovery space. Our campus is also home to MedSafe, an anonymous medication take-back program that allows students to drop off unused, unwanted meds to protect themselves and others from drug abuse. Along with this resource exists an overcrowded map of other drug disposal sites around the state.
All of these security measures lent some hope to my research, but I was still preoccupied about how Narcan gets out of University Health Services and into the hands of my fellow students. I discovered a reassuring piece of information: In 2016, University Division of Public Safety & Security officers were required to carry Narcan in all patrol vehicles. According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, DPSS officers have only used Narcan twice, and both times the recipient survived.
The abounding list of U-M resources could be a whole article in and of itself. Interestingly, each college campus has different standards about educating and providing support for its student body, taking on various forms of care; at the University of Rochester, students now must undergo screenings for hard drugs, while in Philadelphia, the Haven at Drexel houses students from the nearby University of Pennsylvania, Temple and Villanova. However, the magnitude of University of Michigan’s campus and student body matches the immense number of initiatives that are either in the works or in existence already. So, if Wolverines mirror the 37 percent of students nationwide who wouldn’t know where to seek help, this one’s for you.