The United States is currently experiencing an opiate epidemic, with the number of overdoses increasing every year. In 2015, 33,000 people in the United States died of overdoses. The total number of people who overdosed is much higher.
An overdose is not always fatal, much like alcohol poisoning. Unlike alcohol poisoning, however, opiate overdoses won’t get better after a night in McCosh Health Center. Narcan, a medication, can reverse opiate overdoses, but minutes matter. That is why Public Safety should be equipped with Narcan and be trained on how it is administered.
Narcan is effective, and it’s needed here. In May, Princeton municipal police responded to and reversed an overdose using Narcan. Had that overdose occurred on campus, Public Safety would have responded without being equipped to help, and that person could have died before emergency medical services responded.
Princeton doesn’t seem like the kind of place where people abuse opiates like heroin. However, the modern heroin epidemic has made stereotyping the kind of person who abuses heroin a pointless exercise. The median new heroin user is a 23-year-old white person from the suburbs. Look around Princeton. That’s basically the main demographic here. You probably know someone who has abused opiates, even if you don’t know that they are addicted. You might know someone who has overdosed. You might even know someone who died. Drug overdoses are the number one cause of accidental death in America, killing more people than either cars or guns. And in case you think that this isn’t an issue that affects elite colleges, take the example of Johns Hopkins. Last May, four students there overdosed on opiates at an off-campus fraternity house, and were given Narcan by Baltimore police.
Opioid addiction does not always arise from reckless actions. About 92 million people were prescribed opiates in the United States in 2015. That’s more than one in every three people. Many can develop an addiction to opioids after receiving a prescription. Once addicted, simple economics can fuel the transition from prescribed opiates, to unprescribed pills, and then on to drugs like heroin or fentanyl. A single oxycodone pill can cost $30 on the street, and isn’t enough for someone with tolerance. A hit of heroin might be $15. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, four out of five heroin addicts starting out with prescription painkillers, which, again, one out of three Americans use.
Princeton is usually quite proactive in adopting methods of making the campus safer. Thanks to programs like Outdoor Action, there are hundreds of students walking around trained in CPR and in how to administer epinephrine for anaphylaxis. Campus benefits from the safety net of such training. Princeton also grants Public Safety access to guns, which could only keep Princetonians safe during highly unlikely events, such as an active shooter situation, and even then their usefulness is questionable. For the far more likely case of an opiate overdose, they have nothing and have to rely on EMS or the municipal police. If the University is willing to arm its officers, it should be willing to equip them with Narcan too.
Narcan is a cheap drug, costing $75 for two doses for group purchasers, like police departments. The training is simple, since the drug comes as a nasal spray, not as some complicated injector. In some cities, librarians are trained to administer the drug. There’s no reason why Public Safety shouldn’t also be prepared. And once Public Safety is properly trained and equipped, the University could then consider making Narcan accessible to students. Bridgewater State University just became to first university in the country to provide access to the drug to the entire community.
We can’t wait until the first death on campus happens, and then wonder what we should have done. The time to act is now.
Beni Snow ’19 is a mechanical and aerospace engineering major from Newton Center, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.