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UND student pushes for better access to overdose antidote

University of North Dakota sophomore Tristan Meadows is hoping to get 50 Narcan kits available around campus to those in a position to help students who've overdosed on opiods. Meadows is the campus leader for Students for Opiod Solutions. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS — Tristan Meadows is on a mission to save lives.

The University of North Dakota sophomore has been named campus leader for Students for Opioid Solutions, a grassroots movement to prevent deaths from opioid overdose on college campuses across the country.

Meadows wants to get 50 Narcan kits into the hands of residence hall directors, athletic coaches, leaders of Greek houses and the Wellness Center, police officers and others on campus who may be in a position to help students who have overdosed on opioids. Narcan is a brand name for naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose.

The problem of drug overdosing at UND "is not that bad," but the potential for it to worsen exists, Meadows said, noting that President Donald Trump recently declared opioid abuse a national emergency.

The Grand Forks area is not immune from this tragedy.

"With more fentanyl on the streets, the problem is expected to only get worse," Meadows said. "We're only one bad day away from having a problem."

Access to drugs is remarkably easy, he said.

"I've heard that it's easier to get prescription drugs on the street corner than alcohol," said Meadows, who's double-majoring in criminal justice and sociology.

"(Drug suppliers) in Mexico, Canada and China are using normal postal services, like the U.S. Postal Service and FedEx, to move drugs. They do not run traffic through drug mules," as was common in the past.

"I want to stress that not everyone who overdoses from opioids is a criminal," Meadows added. "(Overdose could result) from taking too much medication after an injury or a dental procedure."

Taking action

His interest in combatting drug abuse was sparked by a friend, Gerald Fraas, co-founder and president of SOS, who encouraged him to become the UND campus leader for the organization.

Meadows has teamed up with Lucas Knowlton, a UND student senator. They introduced a bill in the UND Student Senate on Wednesday, Nov. 15, calling for the purchase of Narcan kits and the training on how to recognize symptoms of overdose and administer the antidote.

On Nov. 29, the UND Student Senate is expected to vote on the conditional bill to purchase the Narcan kits — "conditional" because the UND Association of Residence Halls must also approve, Meadows said.

Since the Narcan kits would be entrusted to state employees on campus, the measure would also have to be approved by the state Legislature, he said.

The kits would cost $2,000, but Meadows is working to secure grants that would cover half the expense, with UND Student Government covering the remainder.

Deaths on the rise

In the last few years in North Dakota, the number of deaths due to narcotic overdoses has more than doubled, said Carmell Barth, research analyst for the North Dakota Department of Health. Deaths have occurred in Grand Forks County, but the number is too small to report, said Barth.

The department does not release numbers under six, because of the potential for victims to be identifiable, she said.

Emergency medical personnel with the Altru Ambulance Service gave Narcan to 45 patients in 2016 and, so far in 2017, to 39 patients, all in North Dakota, said Altru spokeswoman Sally Grosgebauer, but those numbers do not reflect the number of actual opioid overdoses.

Battalion Chief Bruce Weymier, of the Grand Forks Fire Department, estimates his firefighters have administered Narcan four times in the past year. Federal medical privacy laws bar him from disclosing specific numbers or incidents, he said.

"We just started carrying Narcan this year," Weymier said. "Before we started carrying it, we encountered more (opioid overdoses). The incidents where we've needed it have decreased."

Weymier speculates that Narcan is fairly easy to obtain for people, especially parents of a dependent with a opiate problem, who can demonstrate need.

"I think Narcan is out there a little more," he said.

Deaths in North Dakota due to narcotic overdose

2016 — 47

2015 — 20

2014 — 25

2013 — 23

2012 — 24

Source: North Dakota Department of Health