Health Policy Pod Hosts Narcan Training

On Monday, April 15, the Health Care Policy Pod in partnership with SLU’s Center for Social Action hosted a Naloxone, commonly known as NARCAN, training and harm reduction program. 

       The training was sponsored by the State Opioid Response 2.0 Grant through the University of Missouri St. Louis and the Missouri Institute of Mental Health. Around 50 students were in attendance, and learned how to identify signs of overdose and administer Naloxone (NARCAN)—an FDA-approved medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. 

       Currently at SLU, NARCAN is only accessible by calling DPS. This restricted access presents a unique challenge. “We know that interactions with the police can be incredibly harmful to people who use drugs and those with marginalized identities,” Casey Nichols, a senior and leader of the health care policy pod at SLU, explained. 

           The administration of NARCAN requires training, and the speaker from the Missouri Institute of Mental Health addressed the idea of taking a trauma-informed approach during administration. Anushah Sajwani, a SLU senior who attended the training, felt it was helpful that the speaker stressed this approach. “If you are delivering Narcan it’s important to be aware of ensuring the individual you are assisting wakes up to an environment in which they are safe and does not trigger any more anxiety than what they are already feeling,” Sajwani said. 

           Both the Center for Social Action and SLU’s Health Care Policy Pod want to continue to advocate for student and community member accessibility to NARCAN and harm reduction. “We hope to continue these important efforts by working with SLU administration to get NARCAN readily available for all SLU students in residence halls for free and with no questions asked,” Nichols said. 

            After the training, students wrote letters to the City of St. Louis’s Board of Aldermen and Mayor Jones, advocating for harm reduction policies in St. Louis. This part of the event was not sponsored by the State Opioid Response 2.0 Grant. Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies that are designed to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use. These policies center around the idea that drug use and addiction should be treated by targeting the mental health issues associated with them rather than making it a criminal offense. 

      “Fentanyl test strips and needle exchanges, for example, are evidence-based harm reduction strategies known to save lives—but Missouri criminalizes them as drug paraphernalia,” Nichols said. 

      Missouri has experienced a dramatic increase in opioid use and related deaths over the last decade. Between 2010 to 2019, opioid overdose deaths in the state nearly doubled, according to the Missouri Foundation for Health. 

     “We firmly believe that overdose-related deaths are the culmination of a long history of policy failures and lost opportunities for harm reduction, and we want to help change that,” Nichols said. 

     While syringe exchange programs in St. Louis and Kansas City exist, they are only permitted through local laws and were still illegal in Missouri as of 2021. Senate Bill 360 is an act that would legalize the selling and distribution of addiction mitigation medication by a pharmacist or licensed physician. 

        Currently, there are no active harm reduction programs on SLU’s campus, but entities like the Center for Social Action and the Health Care Policy Pod continue to work for change and the destigmatization of drug use.