USC sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma has responded to recent warnings of opioids on campus by instituting plans to make an opioid overdose reversal drug available to members.
The antidote is called naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, and is used to reverse the dangerous effects of an opioid overdose. Between 1996 and 2010, the medication reversed more than 10,000 overdoses, according to the CDC.
The initiative is in response to events across the USC community during the past few weeks.
“Right now I’m just focusing on my organization specifically,” said Maddie Drossos, the current president of Kappa Kappa Gamma on USC’s campus. “After everything that’s been going on on campus the last few weeks, I think that it’s a really quick solution just to have it on hand, whether it be at the house — but also just at events.”
Although she is focused on providing the medication to her organization, Drossos said it is something the whole campus should do.
Part of the rationale behind the sorority’s policy change and its timing is due to an email sent out to students by the Department of Public Safety last week.
“Really what changed my mind was when we got that email from DPS,” said Drossos. “At the bottom it said that if you think that you face these issues you can have a doctor prescribe Narcan. So I thought, ‘That’s a great resource but I would rather take the action to get it for my members than have to make them get it for themselves.’”
The email warned of the dangers of using opioid drugs, linking their use to rising rates of overdose and death. This comes after nine student deaths over the course of the semester, several of which are being investigated to see if drug overdoses were a potential cause.
David Carlisle, the assistant chief of DPS, said the email was intended to keep students informed about ongoing investigations surrounding the student deaths.
“There has been a lot of speculation about the causes of recent tragic deaths at USC. Some of those deaths were overdoses, or appear to be overdose, and we won’t know until the coroner tells us," said Carlisle. “There was speculation that some of the deaths may be attributed to fentanyl, a very powerful opioid, and we wanted to let students know that we’re preparing to help if that’s the case.”
Sarah Fullenweider, a junior at USC and member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, has been personally affected by a friend who overdosed.
“In the case of an overdose, I just think we should take all tangible steps necessary to have everything possible on hand,” said Fullenweider. “I think DPS having [Narcan] is really important, too, because usually when we call 911, DPS are the first responders.”
Fullenweider has been somewhat frustrated with the university’s response.
“I just feel like it’s time to talk about it and it’s time to be realistic,” she said. “I think that USC really needs to focus on this and take that into consideration instead of just acting like nothing’s happened and really try to take preventative measures to stop this.”
DPS has been proactive in adding the drug to their forces. Their officers have already been trained to use the reversal agent and will be carrying it with them from now on.
“This morning in our briefing, we had reps from the student health center training our officers on the use of Narcan,” said Carlisle. "Narcan is a drug that blocks the opioid receptors in the body. So a person who might be overdosing on heroin or fentanyl or some other opioid could be assisted. It works almost instantly so our officers will be carrying Narcan, the anecdote in the future.”
Carlisle added that saving lives is his first priority, despite any stigmas that might be created about a drug culture at USC.
“I think the possibility of saving a life far outweighs any concern of what people think," said Carlisle. “Drug use is not unique to USC. Our first responsibility is to our students; Saving lives is number one."
Although Narcan is highly effective at saving lives, that does not mean students won’t use narcotics, according to Michael Levine, the chief of the toxicology division at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
“I think most toxicologists are aware that you should say, ‘Don’t use narcotics or opiates, but if you are going to then at least use it with a friend and don’t use it at exactly the same time,'” said Levine. "If you both use it at exactly the same time or you’re using it by yourself, it doesn’t matter if you have Narcan there or not, no one’s going to give it to you.”
Whether it’s DPS or her sorority, Drossos believes having access to the drug is a necessary preventative measure.
“I don’t necessarily, by getting Narcan, anticipate having to use it anytime soon, and I hope I won’t," said Drossos. “But I feel like it’s just like keeping a fire extinguisher in the house. I don’t expect to have a fire, but if something like that does happen I want to be prepared.”