Opioid use is up: UCOSA says Narcan saves lives

Cameron University becomes first campus to provide Narcan vending machines

Data from the Oklahoma Department of Health shows the increase in overdose deaths (TESS PETERS/THE VISTA)

7.1% of students self-reported the use of non-medical opioids across the UCO campus in the Spring of 2023 according to the Center for Counseling and Well-Being, which has now sparked the conversation of Narcan vending machines on campus.

“It’s trying to navigate how to have these very serious and sometimes emotionally charged conversations, while trying to understand what would be best for the university on the administrators’ side of view,” said Izzi Barry, Chair of the UCO Student Association (UCOSA).

Barry, as well as many others at UCOSA have been meeting regularly with students, where she says one of the most discussed concerns amongst the student body has been getting Narcan on campus.

“Narcan saves lives, that is one thing that is not debatable,” said Barry.

When discussing overdoses and drug-use across Oklahoma, Mark Woodward of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics said, “Certainly opioid, especially fentanyl is our fastest rising drug overdose death category.”

Combining the fact that there has been a rise in opioid-induced overdoses across the state with the rise in campus opioid use, Barry and other members of UCOSA, as well as many in the student body feel that narcan vending machines are a necessity on campus.

“It is helping people, it saves lives,” said Barry. “If this can save one student’s life, it is worth having it.”

According to data collected by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the number of fentanyl overdose deaths increased 12-fold in the year of 2022, from prior years.

Oklahoma saw 50 fentanyl induced overdose deaths in 2019, compared to 2022’s 609.

“17-27 is a large percent of them, not all of them certainly,” said Woodward when discussing the age-range of victims of fentanyl overdose.

Oxycodone displayed. In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially declared that there is a nationwide opioid epidemic. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

According to the Oklahoma Census, the age range of 19-29 makes up 15% of Oklahoma County, which is where Edmond is located. Within Oklahoma county, 722 unintentional drug overdose deaths had been reported in 2021, with 130 being related to fentanyl, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Also included in the statistics released by the Department of Health, was information stating that teens and adults, aged 15-24 had the highest hospitalization rate related to drug overdose.

In addition, 8.8% of University of Central Oklahoma students self-reported the use of non-medical stimulants in the Spring of 2023 according to the Center for Counseling and Well-Being.

When discussing the statistics of college-aged student related overdose deaths, Woodward also discusses how more and more fentanyl pills are being mixed with an animal tranquilizer called Xylazine, which can make narcan ineffective.

“These college kids, and adults, and even high school or middle school kids think they’re buying pharmaceutical drugs, like Oxy or Xanax and it ends up being a counterfeit pill, pressed to look like it,” said Woodward.

The pills can be made to look like M30 Oxycodone, also known as Percs, or Xanax bars.

“If it’s got large amounts of Xylazine or other chemicals, it can make Narcan ineffective,” said Woodward.

While Xylazine and other Narcan resistant chemicals have seen an increase, statistics from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) shows that Narcan treatments across the state have still been used to save potential overdose death victims.

According to ODMHSAS partner Shred the Stigma, 839 opioid overdose reversals took place due to narcan in the Oklahoma metro area in 2023.

With Narcan having been proven to be effective, the state of Oklahoma has been pushing out vending machines across the state. Currently 40 vending machines are being placed across the state, which include both narcan and fentanyl testing strips that can be used to prevent an overdose.

Through Oklahoma’s push to get Narcan vending machines around the state, UCO has been given a Federal Grant, which would provide money to get Narcan vending machines on campus, and while students, staff and members of UCOSA have been calling for it, there still have not been any updates from UCO administration on if a Narcan vending machine will be on campus.

“The grant covering the funding for Narcan vending machines and comprehensive overdose prevention and opioid education, clearly display the priority of addressing opioid addiction and overdose across the state, but also across the nation. This grant covers the cost of these vending machines completely, which supply naloxone as well as fentanyl testing strips. This grant means it would not cost the university anything to install this,” Barry said.

While UCO does not have any vending machines, Narcan is still available to students through other means. UCO police do carry Narcan and are trained on how to administer it should a student require it.

“I will recognize, and I do understand that sometimes students might not feel comfortable going to police,” said Barry.

Through UCO’s substance misuse initiative Roll Sober, students can receive training on how to administer Narcan and how to recognize the symptoms of an overdose. Roll Sober also has fentanyl testing strips, and through them Narcan can be ordered for free.

“Those are all things that you have to do additional steps for, and you have to go interact with someone,” said Barry. “Taking out as many barriers as we can is really important.”

“You can also get it free online, and we encourage people to do that,” said Woodward. Narcan can be ordered through the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website.

“We encourage schools, we encourage parents, we encourage anybody,” said Woodward in reference to having access to Narcan and Narcan training. He notes how easy it is for someone to overdose, whether that be from a first-time user experimenting or an elderly individual who mistakenly took a higher dose of medication.

If UCO were to implement a Narcan vending machine on campus, it would not be the first university to do so. Cameron University in Lawton currently has Narcan vending machines placed across campus.

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