Opting to end Opioid epidemic

An overdose prevention training session offered helpful tips and new perspectives on drug policy.

Kelly Holm, Reporter

Hamline’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) offered a training session on Nov. 30 regarding the prevention of opioid overdoses. SSDP is a non-partisan student movement opposed to the War on Drugs and seeks to raise awareness for drug policies that promote harm reduction.

The session, led by juniors Gunnar Aas and Emily Anderson, as well as local harm reduction presenter James Schmidt, focused on the use of naloxone, an antagonist medication that blocks the effects of opioid intake by binding to opiate receptors in the brain.

Aas and Anderson ran through the warning signs of an overdose: inability to be woken up, slowed or absent breathing, shrunken pupils and blue or clammy skin. Schmidt then took over and listed tips for dealing with a person who is exhibiting such symptoms.

“If they’re conscious, you want to keep that person awake,” Schmidt said.“If you can get ‘em to talk, that’s great.”

If the person is unconscious and unable to be awakened, one should check their pulse and place them into the recovery position on their side, which will clear their airway and prevent them from choking on their own vomit.

Schmidt then encouraged the administration of naloxone. It should be emphasized that naloxone is only effective in combatting an opioid overdose and will not reverse the impacts of other drugs. However, naloxone has no known negative effects on non-opiate users and is safe to administer if one isn’t sure what type of overdose has occurred. The website Naloxone Info states that “In the worse case scenario, naloxone will simply do nothing, but in the best case scenario it will save a life.”

Although naloxone is sometimes sold in the form of a nasal spray, this variety is typically rather costly. The drug’s cheaper, more common form is that of a liquid to be injected into a vein. It is recommend to inject three milliliters of the liquid into one of these three areas of the body: the upper arm, the thigh and the upper buttocks.

“Tap the syringe to get rid of the air and bubbles,” Schmidt advised.

After naloxone is injected, it takes between one and four minutes to begin to activate. If the resuscitation effort proves unsuccessful, naloxone’s use is protected in Minnesota by a Good Samaritan law, so a bystander will not be penalized for attempting to help.

Schmidt praised the Minnesota Pharmacy Syringe/Needle Access Initiative, a law which aims to reduce the spread of HIV among drug users. The law allows a person to buy up to ten clean syringes or needles in the absence of a prescription. He and Aas emphasized the need to view addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal offense.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” said Aas.

One grieving mother, spoke out about her own experience. Her son died of an opioid overdose in Oct. 2014.

“Mental health needs to be an aspect of [drug policy],” she said. “[For my son, who battled anxiety and depression], there was no gateway drug. Mental illness was his gateway drug. [Mental health facilities] wanted him clean before they started peeling back the layers… Why not do both?”

The mother recalled her birthday in July 2014, when her son overdosed in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

“He was not my [son] anymore,” she said through tears. “There were flickers in his eyes, but… he had track marks up and down both arms. [The doctors] ignored him; they were rude to him.”

Feeling that the stigma and fear surrounding addiction was to blame for the doctors’ behavior, the mother ended her speech with a last sentence.

“End the War on Drugs- end it!”

The training session wrapped up SSDP’s semester-long series on harm reduction. If Hamline students want more information on naloxone or harm reduction philosophy, they are welcome to attend SSDP meetings on Thursdays from 6-7 in GLC 1S.