Colorado State University’s Health Network, the CSU School of Social Work and community partners are collaborating with Northern Colorado agencies to offer training about overdose prevention and using naloxone.
Trainings are available to any member of the CSU community who is interested in learning how to recognize the signs of an overdose, preventing an overdose and administering a reversal drug called naloxone, also known as Narcan. Narcan is a nasal spray medication used to reverse opioid overdoses. It’s effective, easy to use and has no side effects if used on someone not experiencing an overdose.
With the current rise in mental health needs and substance use across the nation and growing incidents of drugs being laced with fentanyl, the university is among a growing number of colleges that is being responsive by providing naloxone and education to students, faculty and staff as a resource.
While only a small number of CSU community members have died of overdose each year, most deaths could be preventable with education and a proper response, the team says. Naloxone kits and training are another tool in a kit of resources that help students, faculty and staff avoid these tragedies.
“Over the past year, a network of professionals from across Northern Colorado has worked to increase overdose prevention education and access to the life-saving opioid reversal medication naloxone,” said Pam McCracken, the CSU Health Network senior staff counselor who is helping lead the efforts at the university. “This initiative seeks to increase naloxone access and overdose prevention education so that our community has this tool in case of emergency. You don’t have to have a substance use disorder to be at risk; with both recreational drug use as well as addiction, risk of death by overdose or through exposure to fentanyl is a hidden danger within every community, and it is an issue that affects nearly everyone – most people know a friend, colleague or family member who may be at risk.”
As McCracken points out, even occasional use of drugs can put someone at risk, particularly to drugs being laced with fentanyl. CSU student results from a national survey show that 3.1% of students had used drugs such as cocaine within three months of the survey date, according to the National College Health Assessment in 2021. This could potentially put them at risk of accidental overdose, or exposure to dangerous or fatal levels of fentanyl. In addition, over the last three years, about 6,200 students voluntarily participated in or were mandated to participate in counseling, educational programs, workshops, sobriety-focused programs, or other support for substance use through the university’s DAY – Drugs, Alcohol and You – Programs.
CSU police officers have carried Narcan for five years and, while numbers are not officially tracked, believe they have used it twice in that time period. While the medication was not administered to a student or employee in either case, police were able to save the lives of the individuals who were overdosing.
Fentanyl is a cheap, synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl can be found in pill or powder form and is often mixed into other drugs to produce cheaper substances. As a result, people may unknowingly ingest fentanyl. Fentanyl can be found in a variety of substances including cocaine, heroin, meth, molly, ecstasy and other recreational drugs. Because Fentanyl is strong and often hidden in other substances, accidental overdose can occur quickly and unexpectedly.
Naloxone is an FDA- approved medication – often available under the brand name Narcan. It rapidly reverses opioid overdoses by blocking opioid receptors in the body. It only temporarily reverses an opioid overdose for 30-60 minutes; anyone who receives it must still receive emergency medical care. Naloxone is made available for free in many communities across the United States.
Colorado State University already provides extensive education to students about the risks of alcohol and other drugs, and provides counseling and other support to students about substance use. Faculty and staff can access information and resources through the Employee Assistance Program.
Partners in the effort
The initiative to provide training and naloxone kits at CSU has been supported by a large collaborative effort that includes the Health District of Northern Larimer County, SAFE Project, the CSU School of Social Work, the CSU Health Network, The Northern Colorado Harm Reduction Alliance, North Colorado Health Alliance, SummitStone Health Partners and Ram Recovery.
Pilot program trainings were held this spring, with more than 240 people in attendance. As part of the trainings, 456 free Narcan kits were distributed, and participants gave positive feedback about the program, stating that they are proud that CSU offers the training and appreciative that naloxone is available to them on campus. Narcan kits will be made available for free through future trainings and also made available alongside AED locations across campuses for emergency use, as well as in the CSU Health Network.
For more information about fentanyl, and to request a naloxone training, visit https://health.colostate.edu/fentanyl-information-and-safety-tips/.