USC offered its first “Drug Take Back Day” on Thursday, allowing students to dispose of prescription and other drugs safely with “no questions asked.” Drop off locations included USC pharmacies, the UPC Student Unions and the Student Health Center.
Associate Vice Provost for Student Health Sarah Van Orman said this is USC’s first Drug Take Back Day.
“There has been other Drug Take Back Days in Los Angeles, but we think it’s really important to have one that’s really targeted for USC students, faculty, and staff,” Van Orman said.
The university is currently raising awareness about Naloxone nasal spray, commercially known as Narcan, that is used as the antidote for an opioid overdose.
Multiple emails were sent out by the Department of Public Safety to members of the USC community warning about the dangers of opioids.
“The effects of alcohol mixed with these drugs can be fatal,” one of the emails stated. “ In addition to the direct effects of each substance, drugs shared for recreational use can be mixed with other substances to increase its effects, sometimes without a user's knowledge. This practice is rising and is linked to overdose and death.”
Van Orman said Narcan has been available at USC pharmacies for several years. This year, the university decided to market its availability after recent student-related deaths.
“We do have concerns that some of them were related to opioid overdose even though we don’t have confirmation on any of them,” she said.
Katty Hsu, the clinical coordinator for USC pharmacies on campus, confirmed that students have been coming in more to request the opioid antidote.
“The foot traffic has been pretty steady, and it’s been really well received,” Hsu said. “I think the word is getting out, which is great because that’s the whole point is that Narcan can save a life and so the more people might know about it the better.”
Narcan can be bought as a USC student, faculty, or staff at any of the school’s pharmacies without a prescription and is covered by Aetna.
Opioids are a class of drugs medically used for pain relief. They include morphine, fentanyl, heroin and others. In 2017, there were more than 2000 recorded opioid overdose deaths in California, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Van Orman said the opioid epidemic is not as prevalent in Southern California as it is in other parts of the country. This is because more people in the west are addicted to methamphetamines, a very strong central nervous system stimulant, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. However, Van Orman believes the school should remain vigilant, especially when it comes to the opioid Fentanyl, a synthetic drug that is often mixed with other drugs such as cocaine without the users knowledge, often resulting in an unaware overdose.
“Fentanyl is an extremely potent opioid that now is associated with almost half overdose deaths … It is either used by itself or sometimes it’s mixed with other drugs like cocaine, sometimes without the users’ knowledge,” she said. “Fentanyl is really just arriving into the illegal drug supply… so we are very concerned about that for our students and for our entire community and we want to be proactive about overdose prevention.”
Malibu’s Emergency Medical Technician, Clifford Sorenson said the first thing people should be aware of to prevent opioid overdoses is to acknowledge that there is an epidemic. From there, people need to understand what opioids are, what their purpose is and what to do in case of an overdose.
“Some of the training that we’ve done too as well is the county will try to come out and educate us on the opioid crisis,” Sorenson said.
LAPD Lieutenant Thomas Giandomenico also said he’s slowly seeing an increase in the opioid epidemic move towards the west.
“I think we are preparing ourselves for the epidemic to hit us and when it does, we will be prepared,” Giandomenico said.
As a way to prepare themselves, LAPD officers received training in 2018 on how to administer naloxone. Now, many carry Naloxone on a daily basis.
Two weeks ago, the USC Engemann Student Health Center also began training more than 100 officers at the DPS that would allow them to issue Narcan in the event they made need it to help save a life.
David Carlisle, assistant chief for DPS said out of an abundance of caution, because of the emerging use of fentanyl, they decided officers should carry an emergency package of Narcan.
“The training is fairly simple. If you suspect a person is under the influence of an opioid, such as fentanyl, all an officer has to do -- presuming the person has the symptoms we would look for – is open the package, insert one end of the dispenser in a nostril of the victim, squeeze and that distributes the dosage necessary to relieve the symptoms of being overdosing on an opioid,” Carlisle said.
One way to raise awareness is through programs like USC’s Drug Take Back Day. Van Orman told Annenberg Media that more events like it are being planned for the future.