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SU Wellness Centre shifts gears on naloxone

By Josh Harkema, November 15 2016 —

(with files from Scott Strasser)

With fentanyl overdoses accounting for 338 deaths in Alberta in the first half of 2016, the University of Calgary Students’ Union Wellness Centre is looking for ways to encourage students to join the fight against Alberta’s opiate epidemic.

The Wellness Centre has offered free naloxone kits from Alberta Health Services since last February. Naloxone is a temporary antidote for a fentanyl overdose that allows an overdose victim to resume breathing. 

The centre has also held awareness sessions alongside campus security and Residence Services to educate the campus community on fentanyl’s dangers and the naloxone kits’ usefulness.

But the initiatives have seen limited interest from U of C students, staff and faculty so far, prompting the Wellness Centre to re-evaluate its awareness program.

Wellness Centre senior director of student wellness access and support Debbie Bruckner thinks the venue may play a factor in why people haven’t been keen to pick up the kits. She said walking into a clinic can be intimidating.

“I think one of the barriers to that is, you might say, ‘my son, my daughter, my friend or my roommate is at risk and I would like to have the kit’,” she said. “And technically, the kit was not to be available unless it was to the person requesting it, so I think that created a bit of a barrier to people, even though receiving the kit was completely confidential.”

Bruckner said another barrier might be the need for naloxone to be delivered by injection. While there are nasal versions of the antidote available in the United States, they are currently not available in Calgary.

“Some people are not comfortable [with injections], which is why we’re eagerly awaiting the nasal version of naloxone and why that’s been embraced across the country as it’s much easier to administer,” she said.

The Wellness Centre is currently meeting with other offices on campus to discuss the new strategy for promoting naloxone kits going forward.

“I’ve talked to our students medical response team, the Students’ Union [and] the Graduate Students’ Association about what might make it more accessible for students, so that we can address the barriers that people [find] in our current set up,” Bruckner said.

Bruckner hasn’t identified fentanyl and other opioids as a problem in social situations on the U of C campus, but said fentanyl can show up in pills unexpectedly. Having naloxone on hand if other party drugs are being used could save a life, as a dose of fentanyl as small as even a few salt-sized grains can be lethal.

The naloxone kits available at the Wellness Centre contain two doses of naloxone, rubber gloves and a pocket mask for giving rescue breaths.

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