In response to the growing crisis of overdoses caused by the opioid drug fentanyl, the University of Alberta has taken its first step towards preventing losses. Following the example of other universities in Canada such as King’s College in Halifax and the University of British Columbia, who have equipped and trained staff and students in administering naloxone kits, the University of Alberta gave its Protective Services staff naloxone nasal spray. Naloxone is a medication that can be injected or sprayed into the nose, that counters the effects of opioid overdoses, saving the overdose victim and buying them time to receive proper medical attention.
The problem of fentanyl-related deaths is only increasing. According to Alberta Health Services, 70 deaths related to fentanyl occurred in the first quarter of 2016, and 119 occurred in the fourth quarter. By comparison, there have been more than 214 deaths in the first half of 2017, one-third of which happened in Edmonton. These are disturbing numbers, and when taking into account that fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, creating the possibility of overdosing by simple contact, and that it has been found laced in other recreational drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, meth, and heroin, it becomes apparent that the number of people at risk is extremely high.
Although the University of Alberta has made a move in the right direction by administering naloxone to Protective Services staff, they need to do more. Creating more awareness of the facts, dangers, and severity of this problem school-wide would prove beneficial in cautioning people. Training and equipping more staff than just those of the University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) is critical as well. Without knowing exactly when or where a person on campus may suffer from an overdose, it is essential that the presence of help is spread around campus. Also, the school should consider supplying students an opportunity to obtain personal naloxone kits from them. With many students attending recreational events where fentanyl may be present in hiding or in plain sight, they need to have every resource available in order to save a life if necessary.
Widespread distribution of naloxone kits may be seen as a promotion for drug use, supplying a fallback for users who could be at risk of overdosing, but it is ridiculous to imply that providing tools to save a life is equal to promoting drug use. Supplying naloxone stands at the same level of importance as raising awareness against drug use. On top of providing a lifesaving solution, actions are at work to put a halt to the presence of the drug. Recently in July of this year, Edmonton police seized approximately $4 million dollars’ worth of fentanyl along with other illegal narcotics and cash. Being that there is already a clear and focused movement towards the elimination of the drug’s presence, the rest of the community, including the university, needs to work in the same direction to save lives and raise awareness. Only with actions from both sides of the solution can there be an answer to this epidemic.