University at Albany to receive opioid overdose antidote
By Madeline St. Amour
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has provided funds for several SUNY schools to get naloxone kits and train their campus police officers on how to use them.
The University at Albany is listed by the Times Union as one of the 11 SUNY campuses that has received or will receive the grant money. The naloxone kits contain nasal sprays that are used to treat overdoses of opioid drugs, such as heroin.
In 2014, Attorney General Schneiderman started the Community Overdose Prevention (COP) Program with the goal of equipping and training eligible law enforcement agencies throughout New York with naloxone kits. $5 million of funds is dedicated to the program and covers the reimbursement of all law enforcement agencies that are eligible. This covers the equipment itself, the naloxone kits, and training all officers that could come across an “acute opioid overdose” while on duty, as well as replacements for the kits on a first-come, first-served basis.
UAlbany started the process to get the kits and train the university’s police officers in March of 2014. Six officers received official training on how to administer the naloxone. Officer John McGuire, who is the drug recognition officer for the university police, gave instruction to the rest of the staff, and as of now everyone in the University Police Department is trained to administer the naloxone nasal spray provided in the kits. According to the COP Program’s page on the Attorney General’s website, one naloxone kit is made up of a zip bag with two vials of naloxone, two mucosal atomization devices for nasal administration, latex gloves, and a booklet on naloxone use. Each kit costs around $60 and has a shelf life of two years. All of the police officers at UAlbany have a naloxone kit with them at all times.
As of August of 2014, 24 states had passed laws granting more access to naloxone for those who need it, including letting doctors prescribe naloxone to the friends and family of drug addicts, according to a Wall Street Journal article. However, some opposition still remains. As the article states, some people argue that “making naloxone more accessible effectively condones opioid abuse.”
In response to those who say naloxone kits condone drug abuse, Deputy Chief Jennifer Fila from UAlbany’s Police Department said, “Our sole purpose is to protect life and property . . .
Anything that gives us another tool in our toolbox is key” because “when [people] are injecting [heroin], when they’re smoking it, they’re not thinking they are going to overdose from it, so I don’t think anybody goes into it thinking that [they have a backup plan if they overdose].”
According to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), abuse of non-medical prescription opioids has decreased since 2002, while heroin abuse of first-time users has increased by almost 60% over the last decade.
This may not be a coincidence. Deputy Chief Fila said that the police department believes that people are getting hooked on opioid painkillers and building up a tolerance. A prescription painkiller “on the street” can cost $28 or more per pill, while a pack of heroin goes for around $10.
Therefore, people are switching from one opioid to another because of its “cost-effectiveness,” she said.
Two articles, one from Time and another from Forbes, back up this speculation. According to Time, the supply of heroin has risen due to an increase of Latin American cartels sneaking more of the drug across the border. The purity of this heroin is also higher than it was decades ago, which means that needles aren’t necessary. A SAMHSA medical officer was quoted as saying,
“When you can snort it as oppose to inject it, it widens the audience for heroin.” The age group that is seeing the greatest increase in heroin use is that of people ages 18-25, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
Fortunately, Deputy Chief Fila said that “We are not seeing a lot of it on campus [at UAlbany] yet.” This may be due in part to the efforts of the Police Department, particularly Officer McGuire, who is attending hall meetings with residential life to talk about drugs, especially opioids, and training Residential Life professional staff and the division of Student Success on drug abuse and overdosing. The police department has also been taking an educational approach to preventing drug abuse by sending out blast emails and tweeting, trying to spread awareness of the dangers of drugs, particularly heroin use, to students.
As for naloxone, it is considered to be a very effective treatment of opioid overdoses with minimal downsides. It is impossible to get addicted to naloxone and there are no side effects beyond nausea and discomfort, unless the person is allergic to it.
There is also no risk for people that are not overdosing on opioids that are administered naloxone, as it will have no effect whatsoever.
Naloxone works by countering the effect of the overdose, which depresses the central nervous and respiratory systems and hurts the person’s breathing ability. It blocks the opioid receptors in the brain from receiving the opioids themselves. Although it is impossible to overdose on naloxone, because of how it works, too much naloxone administered too quickly can result in vomiting and other side effects common for withdrawal, because it takes away the person’s high and completely blocks the opioid. It also wears off within 30 minutes, so more than one dosage can be required.
Furthermore, naloxone has a very high success rate. In Quincy, Massachusetts in 2013, the police department reported a 95% success rate in preventing overdoses using the naloxone nasal spray. Of the cases that weren’t successful, the people that had overdosed were either dead upon the police’s arrival or had taken more than one substance. When asked if she thinks that the naloxone kits will help save lives, Deputy Chief Fila responded, “Absolutely. Even if all the kits that we have save one life, it’s worth it for us.”