To this day, the opioid crisis has continued to take a devastating toll on lives and communities across the United States. Deaths from drug overdoses in the country have skyrocketed over the past decade, particularly with the use of synthetic opioid drugs such as tramadol and fentanyl. The deadly epidemic spans across the nation, but has recently found a particularly insidious home inside our college campuses.
Around 12% of college students each year report misusing opioid drugs. These students are not just outliers in data, but the very classmates that we learn, grow and share our journey through higher education with. This drug crisis, however, is not futile to struggle against; it is in the hands of students ourselves to fight it head on in order to preserve our health, build awareness of the adversities of drug addiction and save the lives of our fellow community.
The greatest weapon in fighting the crisis is in fact, the one most accessible. Naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, is a medication that reverses opioid overdoses by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain and restoring breathing to an overdosing individual, coming in either an injectable or nasal spray form. Fighting the epidemic through a harm reduction approach is key to reducing overdose deaths in our community, and this can be put into action by greatly increasing the supply of naloxone in the public.
RICovery, a student organization and support group active at RIC, recently held an overdose prevention training program on April 5 and 12, where attendees were given training on the proper usage of naloxone as well as provided with naloxone and fentanyl test strips upon completion. The mutual aid focused work of RICovery is both honorable and vital in ensuring a united front against overdose deaths, and deserves the backing of the entire campus community and faculty.
In this, RIC has a clear opportunity to protect its student body while building trust and awareness. As opioid overdoses continue to rise in Rhode Island, RIC must use its funds to back the activities of RICovery completely while promoting naloxone access and harm reduction training with their own resources. Providing the entirety of the college campus with free and accessible naloxone while sponsoring more mutual aid based programs in student facing areas such as the Quad and Student Union Ballroom will change the perceptions of addiction and treatment on campus.
The state government has additionally granted numerous resources into combating opioid addiction, announcing $11.3 million in grants towards the state in combating addiction and overdoses last year. This, however, must go leagues further. The projected national cost of the crisis is peaking at $1.3 trillion a year, yet even then no cost can justify losing a single life to the vice grip of addiction. Nonprofits like The Providence Center and government-backed programs like Prevent Overdose RI provide naloxone free of charge, but a greater awareness campaign backed by state resources on the accessibility provided by these organizations is crucial to saving Rhode Island lives.
Carrying naloxone, indispensable a tool as it is, is nonetheless not a panacea. Students, as the voices representing the next generation of leadership, have a responsibility to speak up for programs and policies that address the root causes of drug addiction and to dispel the popular, yet viciously ignorant notion that the blame is on the addict themself.
We have found ourselves in a feedback loop of addiction, underfunded treatments and addiction again caused by lack of access to healthcare and mental health resources. Yet, every revolution has started with one voice. Whether it is with or without the backing of RIC and state and federal resources, the time to start a campus wide movement to keep us safe from deadly addiction and promote collective solidarity, destigmatization and cooperation amongst ourselves is now.