With the opioid epidemic gripping the nation, Naloxone has emerged as a vital medication that can swiftly reverse overdoses. Now, the medicine will be available to Penn's campus and to the nearby community.
The student-run Medical Emergency Response Team is equipped with Narcan, a pre-packaged nasal spray responsible for jolting thousands of overdosed opiate users back to life. MERT's patrol zone extends into West Philadelphia.
"What having Narcan means is that we have another tool to treat patients to the best of our ability," MERT Chief and College senior David Gordon said. "From a student perspective, it's always reassuring to know that our campus EMS agency is well equipped to handle every situation that we might encounter."
About a year ago, MERT initially requested to be outfitted with the medication. In order to carry it, the student organization had to receive permission from its advisory board, which consists of members from the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life, Student Health Services, the Division of Public Safety, and Joshua Glick, a medical professor and medical director of MERT, according to the Vice President for Public Safety and Superintendent of Penn Police Maureen Rush.
After the board issued its approval in winter 2017, MERT officially started carrying doses of the life-saving drug in April after its members underwent a state training module, Gordon said.
The request, Gordon said, was not made as a reaction to a problem within the Penn community, but in response to the growing opioid epidemic on a city-wide and national scale.
While MERT is commonly known among undergraduates for helping students who have had too much to drink on nights out, its patrol zone extends off campus into West Philadelphia, which has become an at-risk area for opioid overdoses.
According to Philadelphia Department of Public Health data released earlier this year, upward of 1,200 unintentional overdose deaths occurred in the city in 2017. While neighborhoods in North Philadelphia saw the highest density of such deaths, new "hotspots" emerged in South, Northeast, and West Philadelphia.
WHYY reported that Philadelphia emergency medical services revived more than 6,000 overdosed users in 2017 alone using Naxolone.
Gordon declined to say whether MERT members have administered the drug since being outfitted with it.
"There has been a huge push in the last four to five years to get more Narcan out and available in the street to a wider array of providers who are capable of administering it," Glick said. "MERT has traditionally had a limited repertoire of what they can provide, and Narcan is a huge addition because it quite honestly has the potential of saving a life."
Earlier this year, the city's health department launched a campaign urging citizens to carry Naloxone in case of emergencies, NBC10 reported. The city also allows people to obtain the drug over the counter without a prescription at local pharmacies.
The Penn Police and Fire Department have been carrying the life-saving drug since 2016, according to Rush. The decision to carry the drug came as law enforcement agencies across the country were, too, taking action to address the national opioid crisis.
Since then, Penn Public Safety has used the overdose antidote 11 times.
DPS also installed a drug "Take-Back Box" in the main foyer of its headquarters at 4040 Chestnut St. in May. According to Rush, the decision to install the box stemmed from a push from the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association advocating for the installation of more take-back boxes to get installed in local communities.
"Our idea of having it there is that there are lots of faculty and staff who have children at home and would want to get rid of their old prescription medications," Rush said.
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