Joseph Alkus noticed a pattern on a map of overdose deaths in Philadelphia from 2014 to 2015.
He realized that some of the clusters of dots, which represent deaths, were around Main Campus and South Philadelphia.
“Where I work and where I live, we have a higher percentage of people who are overdosing from opioid, heroin and fentanyl,” said Alkus, a criminal justice instructor, who lives in the Bella Vista section of South Philadelphia.
To do his part to help combat the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia, Alkus decided to start carrying naloxone, known by its brand name Narcan, during Fall 2017. Narcan is a medication that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Other people in the Temple community have begun carrying the potentially life-saving drug.
Narcan can come in a pack of two doses, and a statewide standing order allows customers to buy it over the counter at pharmacies without a prescription. The Rite Aid at Broad Street and Susquehanna Avenue and the CVS at Broad Street and Girard Avenue offer Narcan, which can be purchased at around $130 without insurance. Prevention Point, a nonprofit in Kensington that provides harm reduction services, offers a Narcan kit for $40.
Even after using Narcan on someone experiencing an overdose, emergency medical care is still needed. The second dose can be given if a person shows signs of overdosing again after two to three minutes.
Last year, city reports project that 1,200 people died of an overdose in Philadelphia, an increase from the 907 people who died in 2016, according to a report by the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia.
Jillian Bauer-Reese, a journalism professor, started carrying Narcan this semester after purchasing it at a CVS Pharmacy in Havertown, Pennsylvania, through the standing order.
“I personally think that everybody should be carrying it,” Bauer-Reese said.
Temple is in close proximity to heavily impacted neighborhoods like Kensington, in which the city shut down a half-mile stretch of land on Gurney Street, where people often used drugs, over the summer. Bauer-Reese visits the neighborhood frequently for reporting — another reason she carries Narcan.
“We’re relatively close to a neighborhood that’s like the epicenter of the opioid crisis in Philadelphia,” Bauer-Reese said.
Bauer-Reese arranged a Narcan training for her Solutions Journalism: Covering Addiction class, which teaches students how to report on solutions to substance use disorder in Philadelphia, on Feb. 6 in Annenberg Hall. The training is open to the Temple community and will be led by David Fialko, a prevention specialist at The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that provides services to prevent substance use and encourage recovery.
Alkus learned how to administer Narcan at Prevention Point and has led three Narcan trainings for students and two for community organizations, like the Bella Vista Neighbor Association.
“With two overdoses within two days in or near the Temple campus, this is a bad situation,” said Alkus, referring to Michael Paytas, a senior marketing major, and James Orlando, a junior Fox School of Business student, who both died from drug overdoses last month.
Alkus and Bauer-Reese both said the university’s overdose prevention policies could be improved by offering Narcan trainings for all students, faculty and staff and creating a better system for students to report overdoses or students whose drug and alcohol use they’re concerned about.
In December 2017, Temple Student Government passed a binding resolution that calls for the Wellness Resource Center and other university departments to teach students how to administer Narcan.
“We can’t, unfortunately, force anybody to use Narcan in these different positions, like a resident assistant or a security guard,” Bauer-Reese said. “But you can at least train them on how to use it and equip them with it.”
Alkus also said some students are unwilling to utilize the university’s medical amnesty policy, which allows students to seek emergency medical care without facing punishment.
“I think we have to make Narcan available beyond just campus police to capture those people who are reluctant to call or worried about getting in trouble,” Alkus said. “We have to do better.”
Currently, Main Campus has some resources available for students, like Temple University Collegiate Recovery Program, a student organization for people in recovery from a substance use disorder or other mental health disorder. Students can also receive individual or group therapy and medication-assisted treatment at Tuttleman Counseling Services.
The university’s CARE Team also takes referrals from students, faculty or staff members about students who express symptoms of mental illness or substance use disorder.
But Bauer-Reese said students need an anonymous online form or text-based service to send in referrals.
There have also been some Narcan trainings on campus. Nora Wilson, a junior printmaking major, hosted a Narcan training event outside the Tyler School of Art in August.
The Criminal Justice Society also hosted a Narcan training session in Gladfelter Hall in October. Claire Cochrane, a senior criminal justice major and president of the Criminal Justice Society, was approached by Alkus, her former professor, to organize a Narcan training session.
“[The training] was definitely one of the highlights in my semester,” Cochrane said. “To be able to get trained in [Narcan] is really important to me.”
The 40 attendees learned how to identify an opioid overdose and administer Narcan. Cochrane hopes CJS can host another Narcan training in Fall 2018.
“I know some people don’t even know that Narcan exists,” Cochrane said. “Let alone that you can carry it in your pocket just in case someone is overdosing near you.”
Editor’s Note: Michaela Winberg, Grace Shallow and Emily Scott are working as peer editors for Jillian Bauer-Reese’s Solutions Journalism: Covering Addiction class.