Canada is currently plagued by an opioid crisis. Opioids such as fentanyl are drugs that are commonly used to relieve pain. These drugs, however, can be extremely addictive and their misuse has led to thousands of overdoses and deaths.
In 2017, 88 Hamilton residents died from opioid overdoses. So far into this year, Hamilton Paramedic Services has already responded to 161 incidents of suspected opioid overdoses. In comparison to other cities within the province, Hamilton has the highest opioid-related death rate.
While there is no publicly available data on the demographics of opioid use in Hamilton, in general, young adults aged 18 to 25 are the most vulnerable to opioid misuse. As the rate of opioid misuse increases annually, it is imperative that students are aware of the availability of naloxone.
Naloxone is a fast-acting drug that temporarily reverses the effects of opioid overdoses until medical emergency services can arrive. As of March 2019, Public Health and the Naloxone Expansion Sites in Hamilton have distributed 2496 doses of naloxone, with 285 people reported as being revived by the drug.
McMaster University’s student-led Emergency First Response Team and McMaster University security officers carry and are trained to use naloxone nasal kits in case of emergency situations. While Mac’s security officers only recently began to carry the kits, EFRT responders have been carrying them since August 2017.
Fortunately, EFRT has not had to use any of their kits since they began carrying them. While this may imply that opioid-related overdoses have not occurred on campus, this does not guarantee that students are not at risk at opioid misuse.
As EFRT responders and McMaster security cannot always be available to respond to students’ needs off-campus, students should be more aware of their ability to carry and be trained to use naloxone kits.
While the Student Wellness Centre does not carry the free naloxone kit, the McMaster University Centre Pharmasave located within the McMaster University Student Centre does, in addition to the Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies located near campus. To obtain a kit, all students must do is show their Ontario health card.
The fact that this life-saving drug is so readily available to students on and near campus is amazing. It is disappointing then that the university hasn’t done a sufficient job in advertising this information to students.
Students should be given naloxone kits and mandatory opioid information and response training at the beginning of the academic term. At the very least, this information can be distributed during Welcome Week along with other orientation events.
The opioid crisis is one that affects us all, especially here in Hamilton. McMaster University should help fight this crisis by ensuring that their students are equipped with the knowledge to recognize an opioid overdose and have the necessary tools to help reverse them.