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New York readies for opioid emergencies

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By Stefan Lembo-Stolba

4/12/16

The life-saving overdose antidote naloxone is becoming more available throughout New York, including on SUNY campuses, through programs that help safety officials, students and others combat and prevent opioid-related emergencies.

Earlier this month, a press release issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that independent pharmacies throughout the state can now sell naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, to customers without a prescription.

Naloxone is a nasally administered antidote that blocks the effects of opioids on the brain, reversing the deadly consequences of an overdose. The increased availability of the antidote comes amid the spike in opioid related overdoses throughout the nation.

In 2014, the governor signed a package of legislation aimed at improving treatment of opioid abuse, strengthening illegal distribution penalties, ensuring proper naloxone use and expanding public awareness campaigns. The signing of this legislation led both SUNY and CUNY campuses to “promote the Combat Heroin campaign on college campuses and train campus police and emergency personnel on the use of naloxone,” according to a press release from the Cuomo administration.

Despite the national trend of opioid overdoses, Five Quad, the volunteer ambulance service that serves the University at Albany, has not seen any increase in opioid related emergencies or overdoses on the UAlbany campus, according to Director of Operations Noah Pilnik.

Since 2014, UAlbany police and Five Quad have been trained and equipped for the use of naloxone in opioid related emergencies and both support the use of the drug.

“I think naloxone can be a great tool for when law enforcement responds before EMS,” said UPD Lt. Kevin Krosky.

UAlbany has adopted the Good Samaritan 911 law, a law that protects individuals from prosecution for drug possession if they contact authorities in response to a drug or alcohol related overdose or emergency. It was introduced by Cuomo is September 2011.

Opiates include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, heroin and opium. In 2011, 4.2 million Americans above the age of 12 admitted to using heroin once in their life, and over 2.5 million Americans suffered from an opioid addiction in 2012, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“The rates of opioid use are low but the consequences, including potential death, are very high,” said Dolores Cimini, the assistant director of Counseling Services at UAlbany. “That’s why we need Narcan, because it’s life-saving.”

In the spring of 2014, UPD held a training session for university professionals to recognize the signs of opioid abuse. By the fall of 2016, both counseling staff and members of Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program, an on-campus peer based support program, will be trained on how to administer naloxone, Cimini said.

Although naloxone receives widespread support from legislators and healthcare providers, it has been met with opposition. Some feel that this distribution may provide individuals with a proverbial “license to use,” according to a journal published for the American Nurses Association.

UAlbany however, has not met any opposition, and is working to make naloxone and related opioid-use prevention programs available on campus. Health officials urge students to familiarize themselves with the Good Samaritan 911 policies.

“The existence of Good Samaritan policies on college campuses and in states offer the opportunity for students and ordinary citizens to seek lifesaving assistance for others,” Cimini said. “Such policies allow us to be empowered and active bystanders.”

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