Opioid abuse has become a more pressing problem in Hamilton than anywhere else in Ontario. In Aug. 2017 alone, 26 overdose calls were made to 911. Despite these statistics, Hamilton police officers have been barred from administering naloxone, a life-saving anti-opioid drug that counteracts the effects of opioids in the event of an overdose.
The McMaster Students Union, however, has embraced naloxone. In the wake of the opioid crisis gripping Hamilton and campuses across Canada, the MSU Emergency First Response Team has stocked up on the opioid treatment.
On Aug. 25, EFRT was trained to administer naloxone injections to prepare for potential overdoses during Welcome Week.
“Naloxone is a drug that isn’t incredibly dangerous if you’re injected with it when you’re not in an opioid overdose situation, and that’s another reason why our medical director said it would be beneficial to have,” said Samantha Aung, EFRT program director.
On Sept. 15, EFRT obtained the nasal spray version of naloxone. In the event of an overdose, EFRT may administer two nasal spray doses in addition to four injections. EFRT may therefore administer four more doses than the average bystander equipped with a naloxone kit from a pharamacy.
Joining a few other institutions, including Mount Allison University, the University of Alberta and the University of King’s College (Halifax), McMaster has become one of the first Canadian universities to carry naloxone.
At Dalhousie University and the University of British Columbia, students can seek out their own naloxone kit for free. When asked if McMaster should implement this initiative and do more to protect students from the growing opioid crisis, Dunavan Morris-Janzen, EFRT public relations coordinator, said he cannot directly comment on whether or not the university should have naloxone available to students for free pick-up.
EFRT may therefore administer four more doses than the average bystander equipped with a naloxone kit from a pharamacy.
“Students with an Ontario health card can acquire free naloxone kits and the necessary training to administer the drug from Shoppers Drug Mart located across Main Street West.”
Although several other Canadian universities and colleges are considering obtaining naloxone, some have opted not to carry it, primarily because of liability concerns or a lack of demand.
At the University of Ottawa, student leaders were barred from carrying naloxone kits during the university’s frosh week as a result of a liability issue that could emerge in the event of an improper injection.
“Obviously, [treatments with] needles always contain some sort of danger, but I think having the drug in general is a great thing because it does truly help people,” said Aung.
When asked if the University of Ottawa’s liability concern applies to McMaster, Aung stated that since naloxone injections are exclusively administered by EFRT, the university would not be held liable in the event of an improper injection.
“The concern at the University of Ottawa was that, as a civilian population using naloxone, there’s a chance that it’s less safe, and the university assumes that liability if student leaders are administering the drug,” she explained. “For EFRT, we were trained on how to use the needles a little more intensively than you would if you just picked up your own kit at the pharmacy. As well, because we have medical directive behind us, our medical director, in teaching us how to use the drug, assumes that we know how to properly administer it, and when we administer it, it is safe,” Aung said.
As the opioid crisis continues, both the McMaster and Hamilton community continue to develop strategies to combat overdoses and death.