Wisconsin colleges make Narcan publicly accessible

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Photo by Olivia Qualls

A container of Narcan nasal spray.

Narcan, a nasal spray form of naxalone, is an opioid overdose reversal medication that has been making its way across Wisconsin at various universities as a way to fight the opioid epidemic. Narcan boxes have been installed at 11 out of the 13 UW system schools, but there hasn’t been an installation at Marquette University .

“When you have Narcan posted up, that’s an awareness campaign in itself and … having that anywhere posted publicly really gets the message out there that this is a huge issue that we’re all dealing with,” Peter Brunzelle, executive director of WisHope, a recovery nonprofit, said.

Last year there were over 1,400 opioid deaths in the state of Wisconsin and over 4,200 opioid-related hospital visits. Milwaukee county also saw a record number of overdose deaths last year with 643.

Marquette doesn’t have any Narcan boxes on campus though MUPD police officers has been carrying Narcan since 2017. Narcan is also on hand at the MUPD station on campus.

In recent years, MUPD has not responded to any opioid overdose deaths for students,” Kevin Conway, university spokesperson, said in an email.

However, in some cases, just first responders carrying Narcan is not enough. Last year, two UW-Milwaukee students died from overdoses in Sandburg hall, the same building that houses UWM’s police department.

Narcan is used when someone is overdosing and should only be administered after calling 911 or other emergency personnel.

“The simplicity of it is amazing and that it saves a life immediately. You never know what dosage could take you over, you just never know when someone is using opioids,” Brunzelle said.

Cindy Burzinski, Director of Wisconsin Voices for Recovery, said it’s important that community members have access to Narcan, especially with the presence of fentanyl. Over the past two years, fentanyl-related deaths in Wisconsin have increased by 97%.

Even if you are unaware of what drugs a person may have been taking, Brunzelle said it’s smart to administer Narcan regardless. Administering Narcan to someone who was not using opioids will not harm them.

It’s not a harmful drug in any way, it’s a blocker. If you don’t have opioids in your system it just won’t do anything. It’s better to give them the Narcan than to not,” Brunzelle said.

UW-Milwaukee is the most recent school to install Narcan boxes when. The boxes were installed in high-traffic areas around campus such as the library and residence halls.

Wisconsin Voices for Recovery provided the boxes for free. It currently gets its funding through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

We want to support Wisconsin communities, increase access for safety, and it’s really great that this program can be offered for free and so we’re trying to do as much as we can,” Burzinski said.

Wisconsin Voices for Recovery has installed Narcan boxes in over 23 counties and installed their first Narcan box on a college campus last November at UW-Oshkosh. Narcan boxes have also been installed in other public places such as gas stations, hotels, probation offices and libraries.

We encourage people to use them in the case of emergency, but we also encourage people to take them out of the box just to have,” Burzinski said.

Narcan replacement is also free through Wisconsin Voices for Recovery. Burzinski said that many installations have been made when organizations and businesses reach out through email.

Narcan needs to be stored indoors as it needs to remain between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. It is becoming more widely available across the state through programs like Wisconsin Voices for Recovery and WisHope.

Narcan is also available without a prescription at various pharmacies throughout the state. However, Brunzelle said Narcan can be expensive. Both Wishope and Wisconsin Voices for Recovery give out free Narcan upon request.

Naxalone access is becoming increasingly common at other universities outside of Wisconsin. Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts made kits available across campus in 2017. Other universities such as University of Texas at Austin and Colorado State University have also made Narcan available on campus.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, one professor rides a bike around campus while giving out doses of Naxalone to students.

“To do all this and make it deliverable to the community at large and have it in people’s hands and ready and accessible, it may seem like a nuanced thing but with how often overdoses happen there’s a real need for these things,” Brunzelle said. 

This story was written by Megan Woolard. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MeganWoolard4