An increase in opioid overdoses has been occurring within San Luis Obispo County and in nations worldwide. Opioids are “a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others,” as defined by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
According to the California Department of Public Health, 71 deaths have been related to opioid overdoses in San Luis Obispo County as of 2021. To improve the health and wellbeing of students and to combat the opioid epidemic, Cal Poly has provided multiple resources and learning opportunities on overdose prevention and support.
Cal Poly’s Campus Health and Wellbeing provides overdose prevention training and Narcan distribution on the Health Center lawn every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose. Although Narcan is a useful tool to use during an overdose, it does not override the need for medical intervention.
Health Educator Prevention Specialist Kirsten Vinther shared information on the importance of distributing overdose prevention kits to students after student training.
“With California Assembly Bill SB367, student safety among opioid overdose reversal medication that was making its way through the assembly would eventually require universities to do Narcan education and awareness,” Vinther said. “Where Narcan is available on campus for all incoming students was the impetus for us to begin the outreach, education and eventually the distribution on campus.”
Each kit that student trainees receive includes the following items: Narcan, education about Narcan and overdose prevention, information about Mustangs for Recovery, contact information for Never Use Alone, a fentanyl test strip and instructions for how to test as well as other safety techniques for safer use.
Overdose prevention training hosted by Cal Poly’s Campus Health and Wellbeing has been successful, according to Vinther.
“We have distributed over 500 overdose prevention kits to students, staff and faculty since launching this program and demand continues to grow,” Vinther said. “We have requested nearly double the number of Narcan units from the California Department of Public Health to attempt to continue to keep up with the demand.”
Outside of Cal Poly, an organization called SLO Bangers offers services of syringe exchange and an overdose prevention program.
Just like Cal Poly’s Campus Health and Wellbeing, SLO Bangers also distributes overdose prevention kits with similar contents to the kits offered by Cal Poly, such as Narcan and a fentanyl test strip. They also provide education around the risks of overdose.
The SLO Bangers program “offers sterile supplies for injection drug use to decrease transmission of HIV/HCV and other bloodborne infections as well as HCV and HIV testing and linkage to treatment,” according to Candace Winstead, biology professor and involved member of SLO Bangers. Her contribution mainly aims to help fund the program as a whole.
“I help manage the data collection and program evaluation, to make sure we are meeting needs and to report out to stakeholders like the County Public Health Department,” Winstead said. “I also use these data to justify grant funding and am the main grant writer for the program. The grants I write fund all aspects of the core services, plus expansion of our outreach services.”
Although Cal Poly offers services that aimed at health and wellbeing, some students haven’t been aware due to minimal advertising.
Interdisciplinary studies junior Summer Peterseim didn’t know that Cal Poly offered training on overdose prevention.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of overdose prevention training at Cal Poly,” Peterseim said. “I wish the school would send emails to all student accounts to let them know about overdose prevention services that are offered.”
Peterseim mentioned she became intrigued after learning how students can learn to use aids such as Narcan and fentanyl test strips to prevent an overdose.
“It’s a great idea and can be something super helpful to everyone even if they don’t think it would affect them,” Peterseim said. “Even though I’ve heard of Narcan, I didn’t fully know how to use the product, so I would benefit from attending the training.”
For the students that have received training on how to use Narcan, Winstead shared the importance of having Narcan on hand.
“For opioid overdoses, having Narcan on hand is like carrying an epi-pen or knowing CPR. You never know when you might be able to save a person’s life with it,” Winstead said. “Carrying Naloxone, ‘Narcan’ and spreading the word about it will help keep us all safer.”