As part of a capstone project, a group of six masters students within the Department of Health Behavior in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health have partnered with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition to encourage a new system-wide drug policy that would reflect recent changes in state regulations.
Last year, the N.C. General Assembly passed the Good Samaritan Law/Naloxone Access Law and the Possession of Needles/Tell Law Officer act .
The first law states that if an individual is overdosing and someone seeks help for that person, neither individual can be prosecuted for the possession of a small amount of drugs or drug paraphernalia. The law also encourages the dispersal of Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal drug.
Ariana Katz , one of the six students working on the project, said that to compose and advocate for revisions, the group turned to UNC students by way of an online survey.
“One of the reasons why we wanted to survey the students is because there’s not a ton of good data specifically regarding overdoses on college campuses, as well as just opiate use in general,” Katz said.
Though Katz was unable to comment specifically on survey results, she said the findings were helpful in supporting their cause.
Phil Hanson , another member of the group, said there is no indication that drug use at UNC is worse than at any other university.
“From the bit of information that I have, there is not necessarily any indication that UNC has some kind of epidemic or anything like that,” he said.
“However, overdoses are generally increasing in the population and we know that a high risk population for drugs in general is often young people and people in college.”
Leilani Attilio , a coordinator for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition and instructor for the capstone team, said the work she has done with UNC students is proof of the drug use on campus.
“And then I tell them the story how some say drugs aren’t an issue and they’re like, ‘No there’s been a couple times when I thought my friend was going to overdose,’” she said.
Though the team plans to present its revisions to the UNC-system Campus Security Initiative, as well as to administrators in Student Affairs and Student Wellness across the system during April, there is no guarantee as to if or when changes will be made.
“Even though our project ends this semester, and even though we will be distributing this policy brief shortly, realistically we don’t expect to see a change this year. These processes are often times complicated and slow,” Hanson said.
“With that said however, there is definitely some direction towards change, which is promising.”