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EDITORIAL: Post-secondary schools should be leaders in harm-reduction

ETC Staff

Canada has been swept up in an opioid crisis that has been killing both hardened addicts and first-time users by the thousands. The main culprit? Fentanyl, a painkiller that is more potent than heroin and morphine.

A dose of fentanyl that is the equivalent to two grains of sand is enough for someone to fatally overdose.

When people overdose on an opioid, they can stop breathing. Naloxone blocks the opioid receptors from the brain and allows the person to breathe again until paramedics arrive. The drug can be administered through nasal spray or injection.

More than 850 Ontarians died because of opioid-related causes last year alone, according to Public Health Ontario. Indeed, the number of deaths has been steadily rising over the decade, with 336 recorded deaths in 2003.

Most people who overdose from opioids don’t die alone: they die in the company of friends, family or somebody capable of saving them if they had the proper training.

There is a prevailing drug culture among the college and university crowd and students, teachers and faculty at these institutions should be trained and armed to deal with fatal overdoses. It could help save lives.

Fentanyl isn’t just in opioids. It has been found in all kinds of drugs — cocaine, meth, marijuana and most other party drugs — and it’s nearly impossible to tell when it has been cut in.

As part of Ontario’s Strategy to Prevent Opioid Addiction and Overdose in April, Ontario expanded access to naloxone by providing it free of charge in more than 200 cities and towns across the province.

The Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association has also been championing for public venues like bars, restaurants and clubs to stock the life-saving naloxone kits.

“Approximately one in every 170 deaths in Ontario is opioid-related,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. “If we are going to reverse this troubling trend, the entire health care system must continue to work together. Distributing naloxone kits to those at risk of an overdose and their friends and families is an important step in the right direction.”

Universities elsewhere in Canada like the University of British Columbia, University of Alberta and University of Manitoba and University of Calgary, do offer naloxone kits and harm prevention programs. In Toronto, NOW contacted eight post-secondary schools and only two confirmed they stock naloxone, George Brown College and OCAD University.

Humber College reportedly declined to comment.

The war on drugs and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education or D.A.R.E program are spectacular failures in the attempt to stop drug use in North America. And as we know, the tried and tested “just say no to drugs” logic doesn’t work either.

The reality is that our kids, friends and family members are all likely going to experiment with or use drugs, know someone who is a user or be around drugs at some point. It’s hard to ignore that knowledge, but now it’s never been a more dangerous time to experiment with or use drugs.

It’s time to drop the stigma and forget the taboo around drug use.

Colleges and universities don’t bear the brunt of responsibilities in preventing opioid-related deaths. But if they can do something to prevent them, shouldn’t they?

We think so.

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