Health Services Offers Narcan to Combat the Opioid Crisis

In order to fight back against the opioid crisis, students can get Narcan from Health Services to administer to those who have overdosed. | Photo by Anna Meassick.

Health Services now offers over-the-counter Narcan for individuals wishing to have it on hand to administer to others, which was done to help combat the opioid epidemic that is prevalent in both the state and the nation.

Although the University of Rhode Island does not have a lot of uptake in Narcan use, Health Services believes that it is important for the campus to be one with the overall community.

“The governor wants Narcan to get into the hands of the community,” said Dr. Christopher Nasin, medical director at Health Services. “As we are part of the Washington County community, it is good that we do our part.”

Opioid overdoses cause the suppression of the user’s respiratory system. Narcan, or Naloxone, reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and works within two to five minutes after the medication is administered. Health Services offers the nasal spray version of the drug at a very low cost to individuals who feel the need to have it on them.

Nasin adds that Narcan is not just for those who have a drug addiction.

“Some people need to take opioids for chronic pain conditions,” Nasin said. “They should have Narcan just incase something happens.”

To get Narcan, it is not as simple as just walking into the pharmacy and leaving within a few minutes.

“The people who purchase it are required to be trained,” said Ellen Reynolds, director of Health Services. “Although nasal Narcan is not difficult to use, the people buying it are trained by the pharmacist to know how to use it effectively.”

The Health Center is not the only service on campus that offers Narcan. Both URI Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the URI Police Department have been offering the drug for years.

“We’ve had several incidents where we’ve had to administer Narcan, mainly off-campus,” said Kingston Fire Department Chief Nate Barrington. “Narcan is the only thing that is really out there which is why it is so important. It is the only rescue available.”

Barrington adds that Narcan only works on narcotic overdoses and is not effective on overdoses involving drugs such as molly, ecstasy, or bath salts.

In addition to first responders, the URI Crime Lab also is given Narcan to carry.

“We trained the Crime Lab because of the processing of fentanyl and crime materials,” said Reynolds. “It was important to have it available in case they become exposed in the work they do. Even mere exposure to fentanyl can potentially cause an overdose.”  

Fentanyl itself is responsible for over 60 percent of opioid related deaths.

“A lot of time Fentanyl is in street drugs that people aren’t anticipating,” said Nasin. “Because it is so potent, it is very easy to overdose on. It really is a major problem. We are trying to put Narcan in the hands of the public to alleviate this crisis.”

From 2011 to 2017 the state of Rhode Island has seen a 90 percent increase in overdose related deaths.

One general complaint about Narcan being so inexpensive and readily available is that other lifesaving drugs, such as epinephrine or insulin, are still very expensive. This is something that both Barrington and Nasin think is unacceptable.

“We have to work through government, insurance and drug companies to figure it out,” said Nasin.

A reason that Narcan is so easy to get, Nasin says, is because the state and the country are in the middle of an epidemic.

“It’s similar to mental health,” Nasin said. “We know someone who has suffered from one of these problems. It is so prevalent and affects every walk of life.”

Both Health Services and the Kingston Fire Department want to stress the importance of dialing 9-1-1 when an overdose occurs, even if Narcan is used.

“You can [relate] it to a fire extinguisher,” Barrington said. “Your odds are better if you knock down the fire and then call the fire department. Giving the Narcan and then calling 9-1-1 are both important.”