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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Opioid Awareness Week at A&M

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Photo by Samuel Falade

The A&M health science center on March 18, 2023.

From 2020-21, the number of opioid-related emergency department visits in Brazos County increased from 33 to 41, as nationwide trends indicate the opioid epidemic is worsening. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show the number of opioid-related deaths in Texas increased to 4,172 from 3,136 in 2020, and that same year, there were 202 deaths from opioids in the public health region Brazos County is located in. In response, the Opioid Task Force and the Students for Sensible Drug Policies organization have partnered to organize Opioid Awareness Week, a five-day event taking place from April 10-14 intended to inform Texas A&M about the scale of the crisis.

The Opioid Task Force, or OTF, was created in 2018 to inform the A&M community about opioid use, co-chair of the task force, Marcia Ory, Ph.D, said. The force focuses on two main endeavors: Training healthcare providers to be more aware of pain, pain management and solutions and, once someone is addicted, treating it as a disease to be cured.

“A lot of people get started through something simple. They go and get some dental work and they get an opioid, and they like that feeling of euphoria,” Ory said. “The thing with opioids is it doesn’t take a lot to get someone addicted. You can be addicted within a month.”

Ory said opioids are pain relief drugs that were prescribed often in the 1990s. They work through the brain, providing a euphoric feeling in the process and can be manufactured into different forms, such as morphine and heroin.

“Now, the biggest factor in opioid overdose deaths is illicitly manufactured fentanyl,” Ory said. “It’s the synthetic opioids that have been skyrocketing, so we now have the last data from 2021, [and] there were over 100,000 [deaths] in the U.S. attributed to opioids.”

One of the biggest issues is that almost any drug today that was not prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider could be laced with deadly fentanyl, Ory said. While not many overdoses have occurred at A&M, she talked about personal instances where she had to restock nurses with Narcan who would use them to reverse overdoses in students.

Ory said that anyone can buy Narcan at a pharmacy today, and with the recent decision by the US Food and Drug Administration to make it an over-the-counter drug, it will get cheaper and be easier to buy in the coming months.

“The reason we know that is [because] we do training, and we give out our naloxone kits,” Ory said. “[A public school] nurse calls and says, ‘I just had to use it on a kid in the bathroom, can you get me another kit?’”

Ory said that the problem has been worsening in the background as the world focused on COVID-19.

“We’re having Opioid Awareness Week so that people will be aware of the risk to everyone, [that it’s] not just a back alley needle affair,” Ory said. “It could be at any age or place.”

The first day, April 10, will involve raising overall awareness about the epidemic, with student ambassadors placed at the Memorial Student Center, or MSC, and the School of Public Health to talk about the initiative and answer any questions students may have.

“We’re going to be on campus passing out information,” Ory said. “We want to destigmatize drug use in general [and help people] realize that anybody can have a drug use problem.”

The second day will focus on education and remembrance, with individuals being able to memorialize and remember those lost to the crisis, taking place in the MSC.

Ory said anyone who has lost a friend or relative to an opioid overdose can take part in the remembrance by emailing [email protected].

A symposium will take place on the third day, with keynote speakers and panelists discussing opioid use in the MSC Bethancourt Ballroom from 1-3 p.m.

The fourth day will involve university-wide opioid and naloxone administration training on Zoom from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3:30-5 p.m.

“Narcan is an opioid reversal drug,” Ory said. “The way our nasal naloxone is injected is through the nose. Basically, you push the nasal naloxone in and that has an immediate response. You might have to do one or two, now with fentanyl maybe three or four doses, but those doses reverse the impact of the opioid. So, that’s why it’s amazing. Naloxone doesn’t kill you. What kills you is the opioid overdose.”

The fifth day will finish the event with an ice cream social in Rudder Plaza, where people can meet the OTF student ambassadors who helped organize and carry out the event.

“One of the things we do that involves students is our student ambassador program, and these are the student[s] who are going to be helping throughout Opioid Awareness Week,” Ory said. “We have these trainings that we teach them, and [they] can pass the word that opioid use disorder shouldn’t be stigmatized; they can pass the word for the importance and need for treatment. That’s what students can immediately do.”

Biology freshman Austin Coleman said the opioid epidemic is becoming more dangerous and talked about every day. Coleman said he hears stories about overdoses a few times every week on social media.

“I’ve heard about fentanyl, and I’ve heard that a very small dose can be lethal,” Coleman said. “It’s killing a lot of young people in America.”

Business freshman Kajul Patel shared the sentiment, signaling her support for increased awareness about opioids.

“I think it’s a big problem,” Patel said. “I think people will secretly get addicted to it, and they just can’t stop taking it. And they end up overdosing and dying. A lot more people are doing that now.”

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About the Contributor
Nicholas Gutteridge
Nicholas Gutteridge joined The Battalion in January 2023 as a news reporter before being promoted to news editor in August 2023. He interned at The Pentagon in Washington D.C. from January-May 2024 with the U.S. Air Force Office of Public Affairs before rejoining The Battalion.
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