Bridgewater State University is the first school in the nation to implement a public-access Narcan program. As part of the rollout of the new initiative, which places the anti-overdose drug in 50 locations across campus including inside residence halls, an informational and training event was held in the RCC ballroom on Tuesday afternoon. It was free and open to the public.
In his opening remarks, President Frederick W. Clark Jr., an early supporter of the university’s public-access Narcan program, said that while some may believe it “sends the wrong message,” the stakes are too high to accept the status quo.
“We say it sends exactly the right message, that we can’t afford to be bystanders,” he said. “We can’t afford to live with our heads in the sand.”
The president added, “We care about our community, so we will continue to act… We all need to roll up our sleeves and address this crisis.”
(WATCH A PORTION OF THE PRESIDENT'S REMARKS HERE.)
Narcan is the brand name of the drug Naloxone. Delivered to someone overdosing, either via a nasal spray or injection, it can bring the individual around within minutes and get them breathing regularly again. It does this by interfering with the connection between the opioid and the brain’s receptors, taking away the “high,” and giving the person a chance to breathe.
The severity of the opioid crisis in Plymouth county was hammered home by several of the event’s speakers. One statistic that jumped out – in favor of providing Narcan in public spaces – was cited by Chief Scott C. Allen of the East Bridgewater Police Department. During his presentation, he indicated that this year in Plymouth County, 682 people have already been saved from death by overdose through the administration of Narcan.
Meanwhile, Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz said, “Opioids are affecting every community, it does not have a zip code, it is everywhere.”
The problem seems to have especially taken root in Plymouth County. Mr. Cruz indicated that six communities in the county rank in the top ten percent statewide in opioid death rates per capita. Last year, 187 people died from opioid overdoses. The majority of these occur in the age group 20-29, which is why so many of those speaking at the event applauded BSU’s public-access program.
“We are right in the middle of (that age group) here,” Mr. Cruz said.
Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr., who called the opioid crisis, “one of the biggest disasters that we have seen in our lifetimes,” said programs like public-access Narcan and the work of law enforcement, first responders, treatment centers and those who help addicts or work to prevent opioid abuse, make a real difference.
“Lives will be saved, and perhaps that is the most important thing we can derive from all our efforts,” he said.
Plymouth County is home to relatively new programs geared toward addressing the problem of opioid addiction. Police Chief Michael E. Botieri of Plymouth spoke about the success of an outreach program known as the home visitation initiative that follows up to offer resources with overdose victims and their families within 24 hours of any incident. The visits are conducted by social workers along with plainclothes officers.
Chief Allen discussed EB Hope, a nonprofit collaborative program that brings together the various stakeholders in the community to help those suffering from substance abuse. The program’s outreach includes drop-in centers and family-support services.
Closing the meeting was Dr. Daniel Muse of Signature Healthcare. He explained how the opioid crisis came to be, and discussed how the drug affected users. He spoke of the importance of making Narcan available, saying the drug has already saved many lives.
His message was grim, but he did open the door to small signs of hope.
“We are losing the battle,” he said. “But we are making strides.”
Training in the use of Narcan followed Dr. Muse’s talk. Participants included local first responders, drug counselors and some BSU students.
The event was sponsored by the BSU Police Department. Assistant Chief Michael Froio served as master of ceremonies, and many of the department’s officers were in attendance, including Chief David Tillinghast. (Story by John Winters, G ’11, University News & Media)