In an effort to educate students on the dangers of overdose — and what to do if an overdose happens — UFV’s criminology and criminal justice department is offering naloxone training to its students.
Naloxone is a medication used to prevent overdoses by stopping the effects of opiates, and with overdose rates in B.C. at an all-time high, it is in higher demand than ever.
As of this month, there have already been 555 deaths in the province as a result of illicit drug overdoses, compared to the 508 overdose deaths in 2015.
Statistics released by the B.C. Coroners Service credited 61 per cent of these deaths a result of fentanyl — three times the amount reported last year.
Michele Giordano, career development coordinator with the criminology and criminal justice department, saw this as an opportunity to educate students on the constantly growing dangers of overdoses.
“We have an epidemic on our hands,” she said. “The province has declared a state of emergency for the amount of overdoses coming from fentanyl.”
The training, which is currently only available to students of the criminology and criminal justice program, will prepare students to prevent overdose deaths when they enter the workforce where many of their careers will include working with an at-risk population.
But with overdose numbers climbing, Giordano is hoping that the training will be relevant to students in their personal lives as well.
“We are educating students about the risks of drug overdose, but we’re doing it in a context where we’re giving them tools to apply to their chosen profession one day, but at the same time, they’re learning for themselves too and for their friends,” she said. “The nice consequence of providing students with these tools is it’s educating themselves and their peers as well.”
A similar program was recently launched at the University of British Columbia, where students were educated on how to administer naloxone and even had access to the medication — a service that unfortunately went unused and is exactly what Giordano is hoping to prevent from happening.
“That demonstrates that there is a great deal of stigma associated to drug use and it puts people’s lives at risk and that translates to the larger system, into health care systems, into the criminal justice system, where people, for fear of stigma, won’t access,” she said. “So having the dialogue at university is a really good place to start.”
While completely erasing the social stigma surrounding drug use may be hard, Giordano is hoping to at least start a discussion among UFV students.
“We want to just start talking about it,” she said. “Youth are the fastest increasing risk group right now that Fraser Health and the Provincial Health Services Authority have established who is increasingly overdosing more and more.”
Having worked in the field for years, Giordano has offered naloxone training to many drug addicts and at-risk users, but found that training students with the medication was a completely different experience.
“It was really difficult to keep people engaged that were street active because they’ve got to go, the drugs are calling their name, so we had to keep it really fast. Now we’re realizing we’ve got to slow things down,” she explained. “We realized in our first training that we have to expand from one and a half hours to three hours each.”
In those three hours, students will learn how to recognize the signs of an overdose, how to respond to one, how to administer naloxone, as well as what to do if naloxone is not available.
“What they learn is a little bit about the drugs and the concerns, issues, and barriers facing people that are suffering from addictions and then we actually practice using naloxone,” Giordano explained.
However, the training sessions are not lead by Giordano, but Erica Thomson, HIV / hepatitis C outreach worker and former user, as well as a peer worker who is also a current drug user.
“I think it’s much richer when it comes from somebody who has been there,” Giordano said. “I can stand up and talk about drugs, but it’s quite different if it’s a sober person who’s been through all those drugs and an active person in their addiction. It’s much more powerful and meaningful than coming from somebody who has no experience directly with it.
Only two sessions of the training have been offered so far, but because of the overwhelming response, Giordano is already planning for the next and hopes to eventually be able to offer the training to all UFV students.
“We’ve done two trainings so far and it was immediately booked — there’s an absolute appetite for knowledge regarding overdose,” she said. “We recognize that we need to do more. We’re starting with crim students and then we’d like to open it up to more students in general, whoever is interested.”
Although there are currently no dates set for the next training sessions, Giordano noted that students interested in learning more about naloxone can do so by visiting towardtheheart.com/naloxone/.