Later this month, the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Help Centre is giving 30 students the opportunity to partake in training sessions to learn about administering naloxone. This event aims to promote proactive harm reduction regarding opioid use.
On Nov. 29, the USSU Help Centre — with sponsorship from AIDS Saskatoon, the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy and the Saskatchewan Health Authority — is hosting three half-hour-long sessions to train students in administering naloxone, a drug that can reverse the body’s response to an opioid overdose.
The free-of-charge sessions will be led by an addictions counsellor and a nurse from the SHA and will inform students on the nature of naloxone while teaching them to identify the signs of an opioid overdose. Participants will be able to practise administration of the drug on fruit. At the end of the session, participants will receive a take-home naloxone kit of their own.
Elizabeth Plishka, fifth-year health studies student and co-ordinator of the USSU Help Centre, is an organizer of the training sessions. Plishka says that she spearheaded the event in response to student demand and to inform students on proactive approaches to handling opioid overdoses.
“We’ve seen that the D.A.R.E. approach to drugs doesn’t work. Just saying ‘no’ is not realistic. Harm reduction is a proven way and a pragmatic approach to respond to drug use,” Plishka said. “Even for students who aren’t using illicit substances, it’s useful for them to learn about harm reduction… It’s important for everyone to know about and engage in harm reduction.”
In October, the Saskatchewan Coroners Service updated their data on deaths due to drug toxicity between January 2010 and September 2018. This year, there have been 29 accidental deaths from opioid overdose, a number that has gone down from previous years, with 65 reported deaths in 2017, 77 in 2016 and 80 in 2015, the highest of the years examined.
Data for 2016, 2017 and 2018 may change, however, as the investigations are still on going.
For Plishka, this statistical drop in overall deaths due to drug toxicity in the province is a result of more people talking about safe drug use and harm reduction.
“Fentanyl hasn’t stopped. The reduced deaths aren’t because there are less harmful drugs out there,” Plishka said. “I think it is because we have seen a lot of discussion around naloxone training — there is naloxone training available, and so, that reduction in death is partly because of that.”
Currently, naloxone has been an unscheduled drug in Saskatchewan since May 2018. The Mayfair Clinic is the only place in Saskatoon that provides naloxone kits free of charge to individuals who have gone through overdose prevention, recognition and response training through the province-wide Take Home Naloxone program.
Although there are no vacant spots for the training sessions, Plishka says that students should register for the waiting list, as a spot may open up and such interest will inform the USSU Help Centre if there should be future sessions.
For Plishka, opioid use among students and non-students is a common occurrence and practices in harm reduction are necessary to address this reality.
“It’s important that we recognize that elicit substance use happens and that students engage with various substances,” Plishka said. “This training is for everyone. If someone has a grandma who is on a strong painkiller that’s an opiate, there’s still a risk there to overdose on prescription opioid medications. We all know someone who uses opiates, whether it’s a prescription or not, even if we think that we don’t.”
Students who wish to learn more about harm reduction regarding opioid use are encouraged to go to the USSU Help Centre, where there is information about identifying the signs of overdose. Additionally, the Help Centre has a naloxone kit on site in case of an on-campus opioid overdose.
Tanner Bayne / News Editor
Photo: Jeff Anderson / Supplied
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that naloxone is a Schedule II drug. Naloxone has actually been an unscheduled drug in Saskatchewan since May 2018. We apologize for this error. If you spot any errors in this or any other Sheaf article, please email them to email@example.com for correction.