Opioid-related deaths claimed the lives of nearly 2,500 people in Canada in 2016, and hundreds more this year. The crisis is growing so rapidly that Health Canada recently put out a warning about the drug for students during orientation week.
The federal department even recommends students carry naloxone kits in case of an overdose caused by opioid drugs. Naloxone is an antidote that can reverse the harmful effects of an opioid overdose and save someone’s life.
The increasing prevalence of the drugs doesn’t just put those who consume them at risk. Merely coming into contact with the powerful opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, can make people sick.
Many universities and colleges across Canada have started training staff and students on how to safely administer naloxone in case of an overdose.
There are two types of naloxone kits: one contains three vials of the antidote, three syringes, gloves, a CPR face shield and alcohol swabs. The other contains a nasal spray rather than syringes.
WATCH: At least six B.C. school districts have naloxone kits
University of King’s College in Nova Scotia has responded by training staff on how to administer the potentially life-saving antidote.
“Our students can access the kits through the residence staff and residence reception areas,” Nicholas Hatt, dean of students at the university, said.
“It is a preventative safety measure because of the growing incidents of opioid misuse in Canada.”
In British Columba, where the opioid epidemic has hit the hardest, the UBC allows students to pick up free naloxone kits on campus if they think they are at risk of an overdose. Students also can get training from a nurse on how to recognize the signs of an overdose and how to administer the life-saving antidote.
The University of Alberta is equipping its Protective Services staff with Narcan nasal spray. The school purchased six kits of the naloxone hydrochloride nasal spray because it is easier to use. Edmonton’s MacEwan University has two naloxone kits in the hallway with three people (psychologist, nurse and administrative coordinator) trained to administer them. NAIT has a naloxone kit on campus and all of the school’s on-site registered nurses are trained to administer it.
Watch below: The growing opioid crisis is prompting school campuses, including in Edmonton, to take pro-active steps to address the problem. Some Edmonton schools now have naloxone kits ready. Su-Ling Goh reports.
The University of Calgary said it doesn’t have a policy on the matter and doesn’t direct students on what to do, but it does allow anyone to carry and administer naloxone if they wish to.
And it isn’t just universities responding to the crisis: high schools have started stocking up on the kits as well. Ottawa’s largest public school board said it’s starting to carry naloxone kits in September, which will be used by trained staff.
“The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board decided to provide the kits for schools to be in a position to react as quickly and positively as possible to any student health crisis based on opioid overdose,” Sharlene Hunter with the school board said.
“The use of the kits requires the training of staff to administer the antidote correctly and to mitigate any potential issues with the exposure to the drug for staff who might attend to the student in crisis.
WATCH: University of Ottawa student frosh leaders will not be equipped with naloxone. Mark Carcasole reports.
Student union banned from using naloxone
The path for educators on how to deal with the opioid crisis is not so cut-and-dry due to liability and safety concerns.
Staff at high schools and universities may be allowed to administer naloxone, but student leaders at the University of Ottawa were recently banned from doing so.
During the university’s orientation week (which runs until Sept. 10), student leaders were forbidden from administering the opioid antidote due to liability concerns if the injection went wrong.
Hadi Wess, president of the undergraduate student union that runs orientation events, said the group initially planned to have about 100 student leaders carry naloxone kits to combat any overdoses that could occur during the parties and events.
The goal was to prepare for the possibility that drugs, such as fentanyl, could be mixed with other narcotics that might be consumed.
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But the plan was abandoned after the union consulted with lawyers and local health organizations and realized it could be held liable if the antidote was injected improperly and led to a person being injured, Wess said.
However, student leaders will be allowed to carry naloxone when they’re off-duty and not wearing orientation week uniforms.
What parents should do
You can check with your local school to find out if the school in your community carries the kits and has trained staff on hand.
Michelle Jansen, founder and director of the Brandon Jansen Foundation, says it also very important for parents to talk to their children about the dangers of opioids, like fentanyl.
“Parents need to make it clear to kids that landscape of what has been existing for recreational drug use, that has changed,” she said.
Jansen’s 20-year-old son died in 2016 of a fentanyl overdose while at a treatment facility in B.C.
“Teenagers and young adults always resist being told what they should do. But what kids need to understand, that if you are exposed to fentanyl, whether knowingly or not, fentanyl will make decisions for you. It takes a hold of your brain.”
Jansen also believes youth should carry naloxone kits if there is a recreational use of drugs in their group of friends.
“I know there is a reluctance for kids to pre-plan but naloxone kits save lives,” she said.