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The state of Ohio is still working to reverse the effects of opioid addiction. There has been a great deal of media coverage has focused on this crisis, with resources for local authorities stretched thin. However, Ohio colleges and universities have worked in their own way to combat opioid-related drug overdoses.

Despite the expanded availability of an overdose medication, Ohio still has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in the United States. Previous news reports and articles from 2017 have documented this tragedy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in November 2018 that rates of drug overdose deaths had continued to increase in the United States.

The CDC stated that overdose deaths rose nearly 10 percent in 2017. The state of Ohio has the second-highest rate of deaths in the country, with the neighboring states of West Virginia and Pennsylvania occupying the top three spots for the highest rate of overdose deaths. The shortage of behavioral health providers has only made fighting the opioid crisis even more of a challenge.

Medications like Narcan are one remedy for an overdose. This nasal spray brand was introduced in early 2016 and has dramatically expanded where overdose medications could be placed. Equally as important, the medication is fairly easy to use which greatly expands who can administer it.

Narcan does not address the root causes of the opioid epidemic, but as more Americans overdose on prescription painkillers and illicit heroin and fentanyl; it is a step in the right direction. The medication offers an alternative to simply waiting for emergency workers.

Colleges Campuses and Opioid Overdose Kits:

Colleges and universities across the nation have increased their efforts to supply opioid overdose kits. These institutions are aware that opioids like heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil killed almost 4,000 Americans ages 15 to 24 in 2016. This was roughly a 33 percent increase from the previous year.

Over 30 percent of college students stated that they knew someone who had overdosed on pain pills or heroin. Shockingly, over 37 percent of students reported not knowing what to do if they have to treat someone experiencing an overdose.

In order to pay for the overdose kits, the 21st Century Cures Act, advocacy groups and some pharmaceutical companies have provided funding to colleges and universities. The University of Wisconsin System now provides free Narcan kits on nine of its campuses, with plans to expand the medication to law enforcement, security officers and residential assistants in dorms.

At Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, Narcan is publicly available in about 50 defibrillator cases in nearly every building on campus. The university has trained hundreds of students, faculty and staff in how to use the medication.

Universities and Colleges in Ohio:

In September 2016, the state Ohio approved the sale of naloxone overdose kits as an over-the-counter medication. Naloxone is an opioid antidote used to counteract overdoses in either injection or nasal spray form. The approval of the kits provided more people with more tools to hopefully prevent overdose deaths from happening. Ohio State University started selling the overdoes kits soon after their sale to the public was approved by the state.

The overdose kits were first introduced to University Police in September 2016 as a proactive measure. All OSU officers have received training on how to use the opioid antidote. By late 2017, in an effort to provide resources for students affected by opioid abuse, Ohio State University stated selling naloxone kits at the Wilce Student Health Center pharmacy.

Colleges in Ohio have strengthened their treatment and recovery programs, but overdose deaths still occur. In 2018, at Ohio University a college senior died after overdosing on fentanyl-laced drugs. Heroin by itself is a dangerous drug, but fentanyl is actually 50 times for powerful heroin.

At the University of Toledo College of Medicine, located in Lucas County; students learn how to directly handle overdoses. The university has designed an overdose training course for medical students that extends beyond the typical classroom discussion of how to administer care. Beyond providing hands-on training experience, the overdose training course is designed to reduce negative thoughts and judgments that healthcare professionals have still about opioid drug users.

University of Toledo College of Medicine overdose simulation gives doctors, nurses, and emergency responders an experience of visiting an overdose victim’s home. The students are not informed about what kind of patient they will have to treat, so they need to make decisions in real time. After the overdose simulation training, the students and instructors review their performance discuss what went right and wrong. As an extra component, the post-simulation discussion is attended by medical, fire and EMS professionals.

Universities located in southwestern Ohio (Butler County) traditionally focused their substance abuse preventive measures towards alcohol consumption. However, in recent years, at Miami University’s main Oxford campus, officials have seen an increase in opioid use and addiction.

Both Miami and the University of Cincinnati (UC) now require incoming students to take an online lesson that covers alcohol and drug use. UC provides classes on addiction through the Student Wellness Center, an online therapy assistance program; as well as support groups through their counseling and psychological services.

Researching Overdoses:

Even with the continued push to make medications like naloxone more accessible state and nationwide, many Ohio agencies still struggle with the opioid epidemic. In addition, most opioid addiction research has focused on drug prevention or how to keep people from becoming addicted in the first place. However, there is little data on what happens to people after they have an opioid overdose and are revived.

This is a question that Miami University is seeking to answer. In March 2019, a Miami University psychology lab received grant funding from the university’s College of Arts and Science to gather preliminary data on whether there are any long-term neurological effects after being revived from an overdose experience.

Ohio researchers are seeking to gain more information on how surviving a drug overdose changes an individual’s brain. The study is attempting to test theories that suggest potential deficits in decision-making, memory and motor skills. There may even be possible cognitive changes that can cause depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders.

The university study could also provide more information on reports of an increased risk of relapse in overdose survivors. A fact that creates additional challenges for successful addiction treatment.

A temporary solution to a larger problem:

Almost everything that impacts the United States is eventually reflected on the nation’s college campuses. Ohio’s colleges and universities are no exception to this fact. Narcan and/or naloxone overdose kits are not the solution, these are only a temporary remedy. Narcan kits and overdose awareness will help, as did the Ohio Medicaid redesign which allocated funds for opioid addiction treatment programs. Preventing overdose deaths does not cure opioid addiction, but it is a step in the right direction.


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