Karamarie Joyce ‘15
What is Narcan Training, and why is it happening on our campus?
Narcan is a medication that is used in a situation where an individual overdoses on drugs. When the medication is administered it can bring them out of it, with enough time to get that person to the hospital for treatment to save their life. The medication is dispensed as an intravenous injection. It is a sterile solution, which can be administered in three concentrations containing 0.02 mg, 0.4 mg, or 1 mg of naloxone hydrochloride per mL.
Last year, Gov. Deval Patrick, declared a public health emergency in response to the heroin epidemic in Massachusetts. He directed all of the state’s police officers, firefighters, and EMTs to be trained on how preform the injection and be equipped with the medication in order to quickly reverse heroin overdoses.
Dr. Brittnie Aiello, Assistant Professor of Criminology, explains more about this medication and clarifies why training was held on campus in the following interview.
Q: Why did Narcan training take place on the Merrimack College Campus?
A: The training happened on our campus as part of Social Justice Week. I put together a panel earlier in the week about Drug Law Reform and Harm Reduction. To make a long story short, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We’ve tried to incarcerate our way out of a drug problem. Clearly, as the opiate crisis shows, this hasn’t worked. The panel included a state legislator, Aaron Vega (D, Holyoke), and Mary Wheeler, both of whom talked about alternative ways of approaching drug use. Aaron is on the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus, which is a group of state legislators who seek to change some of the very harsh sentencing laws that resulted from the War on Drugs in the 1980s and 90s. Mary talked about harm reduction. Harm reduction is “meeting people where they’re at,” and trying to help them reduce the harm that drug addiction causes themselves, families, and the community. Narcan is one harm reduction strategy. I planned that panel first. Then, it seemed like a natural progression to have Mary come later in the week and talk about Narcan.
Q: Which individuals took the training course and why?
A: We had about 30 students in attendance. Many were Criminology majors who will go on to work in fields where knowledge of Narcan is part of their job. Just recently, one of our policing interns was present when a police officer administered Narcan to someone who had overdosed. It’s a very relevant, timely issue, especially for students who are interested in public health, social work, or the criminal justice system. No doubt some students attended for the extra credit that many of us offered for participating in Social Justice Week events, but that’s fine with me!
Q: How long does training take to complete?
A: The training session was about 75 minutes.
Q: What benefits are there to the training?
A: The benefits of holding the training on campus were to prepare our students for future careers where Narcan is relevant. It was also about raising awareness of the opioid epidemic. It’s reached every community in Massachusetts. It’s no longer an inner-city problem. Of course, the politics of addiction are complicated. Not everyone thinks Narcan is a good idea. Narcan has saved many, many lives, so it’s important that the Criminology department is talking about it. Of course, if the training helps save a life because it provided someone with the knowledge to do so, then thank goodness we had it here. The following link leads to a story discussing the severity of the issue (http://www.wbur.org/2014/12/30/opioid-crisis-massachusetts-addiction)
Q: Have you completed the training yourself?
A: I did not complete the training, but I hope to at some point soon. I was at a conference that day. Professor Alicia Girgenti and Jackie Gillette covered the event. They said it was great. As a result of Mary’s presentation, the Criminology Honor Society is holding a drive to collect travel size hygiene items for Healthy Streets Outreach. There is a great need for things like shampoo, toothpaste, socks, etc for the clients of the program, but it’s not within the budget to provide them.
Q: Is it true there is an increasing problem with heroin in the Andover area?
A: Yes, heroin arrests are up in Andover, as are overdoses. This is a problem everywhere in Massachusetts and across the country. Andover is no different.
Q: Do you believe there is a drug problem here on campus?
A: I have not heard of heroin being a problem on campus.
Q: Do you think families with an addict in there family should be trained?
A: Yes, absolutely. People who have a loved one, housemate, good friend, should be trained on Narcan. It’s a lifesaving medication. I can’t imagine why someone who had a loved one who used heroin or prescription opiates wouldn’t want to have it available. Mary Wheeler compared Narcan to an Epi-pen. I would certainly have either one in my possession if my children had life-threatening conditions that could enable me to get them to the hospital alive.
Q: In your opinion what were the main benefits of having this training and discussion?
A: I think it’s important that people recognize and talk about drug addiction more openly. Almost everyone I know has had some experience with addiction, either themselves, a family member, or friend. I believe part of what has allowed this crisis to get so out-of-hand is the shame that is often associated with addiction. It’s also important to remember that people who have addictions are not throwaway people. They have families, mothers, fathers, children, dreams, and potential. Their lives are worth saving. We as a society need to do better when it comes to dealing with this problem.