By equipping its team with naloxone kits, Western’s Student Emergency Response Team (SERT) is taking a proactive approach to the opioid crisis that continues to flood headlines across the country.
“In 2016, 2,500 Canadians died as a result of opioid toxicity – an overdose due to opioids. The opioid crisis and the poisoning of the drug supply – particularly in British Columbia – has been in the news a lot. It is spreading nationwide. We know there is poisoning within London’s drug supply,” said Pardis Baha, SERT Executive Director.
“But our decision (to equip the team with naloxone kits) isn’t based on any sort of increase in drug use or overdose on campus. We haven’t seen the statistics that are materializing across Canada materialize here, thankfully. SERT’s position is to take a proactive approach and to be prepared in case it is an eventuality on campus. We want to make sure it’s part of our toolkit.”
Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, is a safe treatment for reversing the effects of opioid toxicity. It saves lives, Baha said, and is becoming increasingly available in multiple forms across Canada, with pharmacies offering an intramuscular naloxone kit. SERT members will be carrying an intranasal kit that administers naloxone by way of the nostril, much like a sinus spray.
“We did our research – and the outgoing executive director, Michael De Wit did some research – on opioids, the opioid crisis and what steps organizations are taking to combat it. In doing that research, we came to the conclusion we wanted to be ahead of things, and we wanted to be proactive in addressing the situation,” Baha explained.
There is no crisis on campus, she said, and SERT’s decision reflects its approach to every medical call the team is trained and equipped to handle.
“SERT responds to various medical emergencies on campus, from minor injuries to serious things like cardiac arrest and everything in the middle. Intoxication is amongst those calls. Contrary to popular belief, intoxication isn’t the majority of our calls. It’s a very small part of our call volume. But it is something we do see, and overdose is something we could see in an intoxication call,” she noted.
“It’s the approach we’ve taken with all of the medical directives we’ve put into practice. We carry an AED (automated external defibrillator) not because there’s an increase in cardiac arrests on campus, but in case it ever happens, we’ve got the tools to address it.”
Middlesex-London EMS ambulances have carried naloxone for more than a decade, and the Ontario Provincial Police began issuing naloxone kits to officers this summer. As far as Baha is aware, however, SERT is only the second student emergency response team in Canada – following the University of British Columbia – to carry a naloxone kit.
“Our team carries a broad range of medications – naloxone is No. 7 on our list of protocols. We’re not doing this because a need was identified. But as we hear the medical community discuss it in Canada, and as we hear the medical community in London, we are just following that up on campus,” Baha added.
The SERT leadership team received training from the Middlesex London Health Unit on recognizing the signs and symptoms of opioid toxicity and how to effectively administer naloxone to affected individuals.
SERT consists of 50 student volunteers who are trained Canadian Red Cross Emergency Medical Responders dispatched to emergencies on Western’s campus and campuses of the affiliated university colleges. The team is equipped to respond to a broad range of medical emergencies and carries an AED, oxygen, trauma kits, burn kits as well as other basic life-saving equipment and symptom relief medications, in addition to naloxone.
The SERT team works in conjunction with campus community partners, including Student Health Services, Campus Community Police Services and Housing and Ancillary Services to continually evaluate and update its services and meet ever-changing needs on campus.