According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 600,000 Americans died between the years 2000 and 2016. Of those deaths, 42,000 died in 2016 alone—an average of 115 deaths each day. On college campuses, between 1993 and 2005, opioid use has increased by 343%–and that increase was before the current epidemic. Newer numbers would certainly be even more grim.
Despite these harrowing statistics, the Residence Hall Association (RHA) voted Monday to do nothing. To clarify, this is not meant to be read as a slight against members of the Senate; instead, it is meant to bring attention to this important issue.
The Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the student government on campus, has already done their part by voting unanimously to approve a Resolution aimed at preventing and combating opioid abuse on campus. ASCSU further extended their hand, asking for RHA’s approval in the first ever joint resolution between the two student-led governing bodies with a goal of allowing members of Residence Halls to play a role in the passage of this historic legislation.
Some of us in the RHA were in favour of the move—it was clear that it could save lives. Others in the RHA didn’t see it that way. Unfortunately, they injected partisanship and a narrow view of the issue at hand into the debate. Those exhibiting this behavior failed to understand how the opioid crisis impacts people of all ethnic, economic and social backgrounds. This brazen insertion of blanket partisanship worked to stymie ASCSU’s progress in combating the opioid crisis on campus.
I would like to reiterate: those in the RHA Senate are good people, and their objections to the resolution were not intended to harm members of our community. Still, the criticisms they levied against the bill must be addressed, as failing to act endangers students who live on this campus.
The main concern with the Resolution was the provision which asks the University to train Resident Assistants (RAs) to identify and treat opioid overdose. Under the status quo, RAs at Colorado State University receive no such training and as a result fail to recognize the signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose. To remedy this, the Resolution’s proposal encourages the University to implement training about opioid overdose and treatment, and empower RAs by equipping those “on duty” with Naloxone—colloquially referred to as Narcan.
Our RHA colleagues worry the improper use of Narcan may harm students. During debate on the legislation, a claim was made that the improper application of Narcan could lead to seizures and vomiting, but according to peer-reviewed medical literature, “The contribution [of] naloxone to a seizure is unclear.” According to another study, only 0.1% of patients had a seizure after being given a dose of Narcan, and only 0.2% vomited. In fact, Narcan is so safe that it is a standard emergency response procedure to administer Narcan in the face of even a possible opioid overdose, including when underlying drug that was ingested is unclear. The potential to save lives outweighs any potential side effects from Narcan.
Others claimed the opioid crisis may or may not be a problem on CSU’s campus and, as a result, there may be no need to act–yet ASCSU’s Resolution already addressed this concern. The language used in the resolution instructs the administration to “include the number of opioid overdoses and deaths in its annual drug and alcohol report.”
Another participant attempting to downplay the opioid epidemic argued that because opioid deaths have been declining in Colorado following the legalization of marijuana, action is not required. This actually isn’t true. Even if it were true, however, the argument is a non-sequitur. Even if opioid use has been declining, we must act to uphold the safety of our students. Homicide in the United States has been falling since the early 1990s, but would anyone argue against pursuing policies to reduce homicide simply because murder rates are falling?
The most difficult moment of RHA’s debate occurred when an individual in the room dismissed the issue entirely on the basis of race. They stated, “I just find it disheartening that in the past, ASCSU has failed to pass bills in support of minorities, but they were quick to pass this bill that is mostly affected by white people,” implying opioid overdose is a “white” problem, and that ASCSU has been a body of inaction when it comes to representing all identities on our campus. These comments boldly contradict our mission as RHA Senators. We are chosen to serve and represent all students who live in the Residence Halls, irrespective of their skin color. This is not a race issue, this is a human issue.
Lastly, CSU is not alone in its efforts to combat opioid abuse. The University of Wisconsin has already adopted a policy where both security officers and RAs are equipped with Narcan and were given training in its administration. While these reforms have been passed recently, thus unable to provide substantial empirical data regarding their efficacy, we know from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that for every 163 Naloxone kits distributed, one life is saved.
Empowering individuals on our campus to save lives is a perfect example of a policy that all Rams should support, partisanship aside. It is time for our community to come together as one to enact change that directly benefits the student body. We are strongly optimistic that a solution can be found. This Resolution has the potential to save lives. It is true that Rams take care of Rams–and we implore our colleagues, classmates, and anyone involved in the CSU community to support the ASCSU project to reduce the number of opioid deaths on campus. We will not, and cannot, let this initiative fail, because the lives of our fellow students are at stake. We will continue to fight for this project on our campus, because no student should die from a preventable death.
Join us in this historic movement on our campus by contacting your ASCSU and RHA Senators to express your support.
Sen. K. Alexander Adams, Residence Hall Association
Sen. Alex Moss, Residence Hall Association
Sen. Brendan J. Kaelin, Residence Hall Association
Sen. Brandon J. Northrop, Residence Hall Association
Pres. Sydney Steinhoff, Allison Hall Council
Pres. Ethan Burshek, CSU Young Americans for Liberty
VP. Nelson Bopp, CSU Young Americans for Liberty
Pres. Elijah Ullman, CSU Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Speaker Isabel Brown, ASCSU Senate
Sen. Liam Aubrey, ASCSU College of Business
Sen. Josh Williams, ASCSU Multi-Faith and Belief Council