Letter to the Editor: In wake of opioid crisis, anti-overdose drugs must be made available at USC

I am writing to the editor to plead that the University of Southern California require access to naloxone in higher-risk areas of our community, including University-affiliated Greek organizations. Naloxone, commonly referred to by its brand name Narcan, is a lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose, and is believed to save thousands of lives annually.
The first time I saw someone overdose in front of me, I was 17 years old. It was early dawn, and I was volunteering at a Boston homeless shelter, preparing breakfast with some of my classmates. A man collapsed, his skin turning a pale gray. Before I even understood what was happening, a female shelter employee was administering Narcan through a nasal spray while another employee called an ambulance. I had lost friends to opioid overdoses, but I had never witnessed one until that moment.

When the press recently started to cover the opioid epidemic in Southern California, I was taken aback. I was raised in Massachusetts, and I have been aware of opioid abuse for as long as I can remember. I have lost close friends to accidental and preventable overdoses, and I have lost others to addiction. When certain publications began explaining what Narcan is, I was stunned. I first learned about the drug in middle school health class, and was taught how to administer it in high school. I couldn’t fathom a world in which Narcan’s uses were not known. It was almost as if the people of California refused to acknowledge it as a solution because that meant we first had to acknowledge the opioid problem.

According to the World Health Organization, naloxone is considered an “essential medicine” because of its highly beneficial impact. A single dose of generic naloxone can be purchased for $20–40, and includes all necessary components to fully reverse the effects of an overdose. According to the Food and Drug Administration, naloxone has proven its effectiveness beyond reasonable medical doubt. It also poses no negative health effects if administered when unnecessary. There is no risk in having doses of Narcan available in areas where people may experience overdoses.

Although we are facing a public health crisis, we are also afforded an incredibly inexpensive and simple short-term solution to this issue. The majority of states have passed legislation legalizing to the purchase naloxone with or without a prescription. It can legally be administered by any individual, with or without medical training. Those who administer the drug are protected under California law against civil and criminal action, commonly referred to as “good samaritan” laws, allowing for faster emergency response time. Narcan, and most forms of naloxone are packaged as nasal sprays, and can be administered as easily as common cold medicine.

What I am suggesting falls into the category of third-party access, which means certain individuals who are not abusing opioids are in possession of Narcan in the event that another individual overdoses. It is not an unprecedented suggestion. In fact, the Clinton Foundation and Adapt Pharma, the manufacturers of Narcan, are working together to provide free Narcan to high schools and colleges across the United States in an effort to increase awareness of the drug and its benefits. There are no recorded studies showing that access to overdose reversal medication, such as Narcan, encourages drug abuse.

As we continue our education, it is important to remember that we are never completely aware of the plights of our friends and classmates. At many events on or near campus, non-USC students are allowed to enter or participate, and we likely know even less about those individuals. This is why I am pleading the case that the University require all affiliated Greek life and high-risk school sponsored events have accessible naloxone. It is inexpensive, easy to use, effective and has no harmful side effects if administered unnecessarily. There is no reason we should not have this lifesaving medicine on hand, and there is every reason we should.
No life is untouched by the reaches of opioid addiction. It is a silent killer of our community. Many people fail to acknowledge the staggering impact that addiction and abuse has on the Trojan Family. At this critical juncture, it is imperative that we do our part to ensure the wellbeing of our fellow students and our community. Anything less than that could be deadly.

Elise Burger
Class of 2020