Harm reduction organization Maine Access Points (MAP) trained over fifty students on how to administer the medication naloxone in the case of an opioid overdose on Tuesday evening. Nearly all students left the event equipped with doses of naloxone, which is also known by the brand name Narcan. The following day, MAP trained Bowdoin Security officers to use naloxone, which they will now carry for the first time.
During the student training in Adams Hall, Executive Director of MAP Hilary Eslinger walked students through identifying the symptoms of an overdose and administering naloxone intramuscularly with a syringe. Naloxone, which is available as an injectable and a nasal spray, quickly restores the breathing ability of an individual going through an overdose by blocking the effect of opioids on the brain. Naloxone can stop overdoses from all opioids including heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and prescription pain relievers including OxyContin, Vicodin and morphine.
The event was organized by Bowdoin Student Government President Susu Gharib—who was motivated by her work as an EMT this summer administering Narcan to numerous young adults—to increase harm reduction programs on campus. Gharib wants to counter the misconception that Bowdoin students are not a population at risk of overdose.
“Any non-zero number of students doing drugs is reason enough to have these programs,” Gharib said. “People have this mindset or idea that overdoses don’t happen in privileged communities, and that’s just not true. So I wanted to bring [naloxone] to Bowdoin because I know many people that do cocaine here, and you just never know what’s going to end up in what you’re using.”
Eslinger echoed Gharib’s sentiments, expressing that naloxone should be accessible for those using “party drugs” in addition to chronic drug users. While cocaine and other drugs such as marajuana and ecstasy are not themselves opiates, if they are cut with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, there is a risk of overdose.
“I imagine there are people in this space that use drugs, and whenever we are in community with people, we should be trained,” Eslinger said. “Drug use exists on a spectrum. There’s chaotic drug use, there’s drug use that’s very pleasurable and anyone on that spectrum can be at risk. Sometimes we only hyperfocus on the chaotic drug use, and really we know people use coke or stimulants all the time, and they need to be able to have [naloxone].”
On Wednesday, MAP trained Bowdoin Security officers to administer naloxone and supplied them with doses to begin carrying. Julie Gray, a Physician Assistant for Health Services, facilitated Safety and Security getting trained and supplied with nasal spray naloxone. Gray initially proposed bringing naloxone to campus in the fall of 2019, but the pandemic delayed the implementation of the program.
“It was very clear to me that there are many times when there should be a serious consideration for overdose.… If you never look for an overdose, you are never going to find an overdose,” Gray said. “The thought of a student or someone on this campus dying of a drug overdose simply because we didn’t educate ourselves and take the proper steps to have a first line of harm reduction—that’d be terrible.”
Associate Director of Safety and Security Bill Harwood worked with MAP and Health Services to train and equip security officers with naloxone. Harwood joined Safety and Security last March after 30 years in the state police force, during which time he responded to many overdoses.
Prior to the training, Harwood and Gray said there was apprehension from some security officers about carrying naloxone due to potential legal liabilities associated with administering the medication to an unconscious student. Good Samaritan laws that protect those acting to save lives and naloxone’s inability to cause harm when administered put these hesitations to rest.
“I came from an agency that did possess Narcan. I’ve seen it used, I’ve seen it work.… It saves lives,” Harwood said. “It’s very simple and easy to use. You’re not going to hurt somebody by using it. That’s reassuring to a lot of people.… That’s what allows programs like this to exist.”
Naloxone’s low risk and straightforward use allows Maine to have a standing order naloxone prescription, which enables the distribution of naloxone to both security and students. MAP provided both nasal and intramuscular naloxone to trained students, and many students took multiple doses to store in their dorms, cars and backpacks.
Ala’a Alattiyat ’23 attended the event and appreciated the practical knowledge provided.
“I wanted to be able to help out myself and people in my community.… I’m from Memphis, and I see a lot of people overdose there, and I think it’s important that more young people have access to this information,” Alattiyat said. “I always knew what we were supposed to do [in the case of an overdose] but not how to know if somebody is overdosing-–what to actually do—so that was really helpful.”
In addition to overdose education and prevention, MAP’s work includes syringe exchange programs, peer support and recovery and drug user advocacy throughout rural Maine. With an office close to campus next to Lighthouse Deli, Eslinger is looking forward to continuing the organization’s relationship with Bowdoin.
“[MAP] is run by people who do drugs, have done drugs or love people who use drugs,” Eslinger said. “We believe that all people have the right to safety and respect, … and we believe that people do not have to die from their drug use.”
Vaughn Vial contributed to this report.