North Texas Daily

Local advocacy group seeks to expand Narcan access at UNT

Local advocacy group seeks to expand Narcan access at UNT

Local advocacy group seeks to expand Narcan access at UNT
January 17
00:56 2019

Local advocacy group React to Opioid Overdose, or R.O.O., is seeking to implement an initiative at UNT that would supply residence halls with access to naloxone, an opioid antagonist that temporarily blocks the effects of opiate overdosages, in the form of Narcan. The advocacy group has supplied Narcan to Denton ISD high schools, as well as to Denton’s First United Methodist Church, since December 2017.

Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, combats overdoses from multiple drugs including heroin, morphine, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, hydrocodone and codeine. The medication, which can be administered either intravenously, injected into a muscle or applied via nasal spray begins working in as little as two or three minutes.

Cross Roads resident Sharon Roland, 65, and her two children work as criminal defense attorneys in Denton, and began the initiative after the fatal overdose of Roland’s son Randy from heroin and fentanyl in 2016 at the age of 32.

“Anyone, at any age, anywhere could have an overdose,” Roland said. “Young adults are at high risk for overdose and residence halls are a concentration.”

The Roland family said they would be willing to supply UNT residence halls with Narcan out of their own pockets.

Currently, UNT Police officers are trained to carry and administer Narcan nasal spray for suspected opiate overdoses. That program, which began in January 2017 after recommendations from the local fire department and UNT Health Center Executive Director Herschel Voorhees, aimed to address the opioid crisis.

“We could clearly see from news stories that the opioid crisis would impact Texas greater than it already has,” UNT Chief of Police Ed Reynolds said. “So we wanted to be ahead of the curve.”

In Denton County, overdose deaths related to opioids have risen in recent years. The Denton Record-Chronicle reported in April 2018, per Denton County Public Health statistics, that over a four-year period from 2013 to 2017, overdose deaths increased from 25 to 37. Likewise, according to a Texas Health and Human Services report on accidental opioid-related deaths from 1999-2015, the regions of North and East Texas—more specifically Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston—were impacted the most over this period.

Reynolds said while the Police Department has previously responded to calls pertaining to overdoses, their officers have yet to utilize their Narcan, something he attributed to the locality and response times of other emergency services adjacent to UNT.

“We’re pretty fortunate we have a fire station right next to campus,” Reynolds said. “Generally, our ambulance crew’s around campus respond in a matter of a minute or so.”

As of 2015, deaths attributed to synthetic opioids—such as fentanyl and hydrocodone—have risen 73 percent to 9,580 according to R.O.O. and the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative. As of 2015, 78 people died every day due to overdoses relating to opioids, which at the time was the leading cause of unintentional death due to poisoning in the age groups of 25-64 in the United States.

Executive Director of Housing Gina Vanacore, who sat on the campus group that reviewed how Narcan would be available at UNT, noted that student health professionals, along with the UNT Health Center, have access to the medication but residence hall staff does not.

Vanacore said the reasoning behind this is that although residence staff receive training about “alcohol and other drug related emergencies,” differing levels of staff from part-time desk workers to community director would lead to, “varying levels of ability to discern this directly.”

Vanacore said all staff are instructed to call the university police in the event of residence staff encountering a person requiring lifesaving medical attention.

“The police are best trained to determine the best course of action for all situations that are urgent and of this nature,” Vanacore said.

Roland said the more easily accessible Narcan is made, the more it can save lives.

“[Narcan is] like an EpiPen or a fire extinguisher,” Roland said. “You may never need it, but if you do it could save a life.”

Featured Image: Illustration by Austin Banzon. 

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Ryan Higgs

Ryan Higgs

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