College campuses have not gone untouched when it comes to the opioid epidemic.
One out of every four universities has an annual opioid prescription use rate over 10 percent, and since the 1990s, opioid use among college students has risen 343 percent.
As hard as preventative policies may try, the underlying truth is that these issues will continue. It’s almost inevitable that some college students will struggle with drug dependencies — and it’s improbable that these startling statistics will reach zero.
No single policy can completely eradicate drug abuse by young adults.
Harm reduction, however, is an evidence-based theory that attempts to mitigate the effects of these problems. These policies create safer environments in the event of emergencies, such as overdoses, and equip people to keep themselves safe if they decide to take part in risky behaviors.
These policies provide an alternative to the harsh punishments that are often implemented as deterrents.
Beyond a college campus, these policies can include anything from overdose education to safe injection sites and clean syringe exchanges for those with intravenous drug dependencies. But politics have often stood in the way of these measures, blocking important legislation that advocates say is necessary to reduce deaths by overdose.
Those who push back against harm reduction policies suggest they normalize illicit, illegal and dangerous behaviors.
Despite this, harm reduction has been proven to reduce the likelihood of death, and even serves as a pathway to abstinence for those with drug dependencies. College campuses are a model for how these policies can and should be implemented on a broader scale.
Naloxone, more commonly known by its brand name Narcan, is a medication that treats narcotic overdoses and can be a life-saving first step as someone waits for emergency care. UNC Student Wellness and Campus Health partnered to provide free and anonymous naloxone to students, with no prescription required.
It is available at both the Campus Health Pharmacy and the Student Stores Pharmacy. The program was initiated through the UNC Parent's Council grant funds and it continues with the support of the Eli Beard Memorial Naloxone and Recovery Expendable Fund.
Harm reduction doesn’t stop at mitigating the effects of drug use. It can be applied to alcohol abuse and alcohol poisoning as students learn how to treat peers who may experience this during their college careers. We see harm reduction at play when schools offer safe sex supplies to combat pregnancy and the spread of STIs.
Even good Samaritan protections that shield students who intervene in emergencies from disciplinary action could fall under the harm reduction umbrella. Harm reduction policies prevent the most severe consequences of risky behaviors while maintaining dignity and autonomy for those struggling with drug or alcohol dependencies.
When students engage in risk behaviors, college campuses have taken the initiative to ensure that students are kept as safe as possible. It’s time to expand this mentality beyond UNC and beyond universities across the country.
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