After losing a close friend to an opiate overdose a few months ago, college students Gerald Fraas and Jonah Wendt wanted to take action to prevent future deaths. In September, Fraas (University of Alabama) and Wendt (Trinity University in Houston) formed a new, national nonprofit, Students for Opioid Solutions (SOS).
The primary purpose of SOS, Fraas and Wendt said in a statement, is “to force administrators to shift from being reactive to being proactive and preventative.” They also want to get students involved as campus advocates for taking actions that can help reduce the nationwide opiate toll, and reverse the epidemic of addiction.
Taking stock after their friend’s death, “we saw a lack of preventative action being taken by institutions of higher education as they fail to recognize opioid abuse as a real issue until it’s too late. At most institutions several students have to die before the school takes any action at all.”
SOS is a fast-growing group. By mid-November, its website listed 33 chapters at universities across the U.S., including the universities of Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, plus Texas Tech University.
The group plans to pass student government legislation requiring schools to train both residential assistants and campus police officers in identifying opioid overdoses and deploying the provided canisters of Narcan. “One can of Narcan costs $40, it’s easy to use, and will save countless lives. That’s just $40 to save one life,” Fraas said.
Fraas says the group will expedite the process by which the legislation is introduced, by preparing template legislation, data, and talking points to be used by student senators. “Student governments represent the interests of their students, and through the legislative process will put pressure on school administration.” The SOS website has a form interested students can fill out and submit, to become Campus Captains.
Taking steps to enable faster response to overdoses on campus should save a significant number of lives, Fraas says. “As it stands, there is no federal mandated response time by a medical first responder. Most municipalities impose a requirement of 10-15 minute response times. The ideal time is often noted as being eight minutes, but it is often regarded as impractical. This number does not take into effect the amount of time it takes for an opioid overdose to be recognized.”
The other measures SOS is proposing include:
– require that residential life members and campus police officers carry or have quick and easy access to Narcan.
– require schools to report all opioid overdoses and deaths in the annual drug and alcohol report. Currently, colleges and universities are not required to report non-criminal drug deaths to the federal government.
– enact a Good Samaritan policy to protect bystanders who provide aid in the case of an opioid overdose or report it to an employee of the school.
— protect students from expulsion if the drugs used to overdose were illegally obtained. A student with an addiction needs treatment, not punishment.
Fraas points out that these measures have already been implemented at several universities across the U.S. “The issue is that institutions do not recognize that the potential issue may become a reality on their campus, until it does. And too often when it is an issue, they still act as if harsh punishments are the solution.
“With the opioid epidemic becoming an ever more prominent issue across the nation, it’s critical that we as students rise up in an effort to better protect our peers.”