Mcgill can­not ig­nore the fen­tanyl cri­sis

The McGill Daily - - Editorial - —The Mcgill Daily ed­i­to­rial board

Con­tent Warn­ing: drug use and over­dose

Last week, pub­lic health of­fi­cials in Mon­treal warned of an im­mi­nent fen­tanyl cri­sis that poses a se­ri­ous risk to the city’s drug users. Fen­tanyl is an opi­oid pre­scribed to re­lieve chronic pain, but its in­ten­sity is 40 times that of heroin, and its tox­i­c­ity 100 times that of mor­phine. Fen­tanyl can be found in opi­ates, as well as party drugs such as co­caine, PCP, and MDMA. Be­cause it’s of­ten present with­out the con­sumer’s knowl­edge, it can eas­ily cause a fa­tal over­dose. In Bri­tish Columbia, 706 over­dose deaths from Jan­uary to July 2017 in­volved fen­tanyl. In Mon­treal, there have been 24 con­firmed drug over­dose cases since the be­gin­ning of Au­gust 2017. Faced with this grow­ing pub­lic health cri­sis, the Mcgill com­mu­nity must waste no time in sup­ply­ing the tools and in­for­ma­tion nec­es­sary to keep stu­dents safe.

A key step in this di­rec­tion would be for the Univer­sity to pro­vide ac­cess to nalox­one, a chem­i­cal com­pound that sta­bi­lizes some­one ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an over­dose for 30-90 min­utes un­til fur­ther med­i­cal at­ten­tion is avail­able. Nalox­one can be ad­min­is­tered by any­one who has re­ceived a req­ui­site train­ing, which Mon­treal Pub­lic Health rec­om­mends for the gen­eral pub­lic. In­deed, while city of­fi­cials work on an ac­tion plan to tackle the fen­tanyl cri­sis, com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions like Méta d’ me have been train­ing peo­ple to ad­min­is­ter nalox­one safely. Mean­while, some lo­cal events and venues have be­gun keep­ing a nalox­one- trained per­son on site to max­i­mize safe( r) par­ty­ing. Th­ese ini­tia­tives are rooted in a phi­los­o­phy of harm re­duc­tion that en­sures the rights of drug users to health and safety, and it is vi­tal for Mcgill to em­brace this same mind­set.

Many stu­dents use party drugs, mean­ing the fen­tanyl cri­sis nec­es­sar­ily af­fects the Mcgill com­mu­nity—yet there seems to be lit­tle prepa­ra­tion hap­pen­ing on cam­pus. The Mcgill Stu­dent Emer­gency Re­sponse Team (MSERT), who al­ready re­ceive lim­ited in­for­ma­tion on re­spond­ing to drug over­doses, has nei­ther been pro­vided with nalox­one nor taught to ad­min­is­ter it. Floor fel­lows who are aware of the cri­sis have com­mu­ni­cated the dan­gers to their stu­dents, but they too have no ac­cess to nalox­one. Mcgill Health Ser­vices, mean­while, haven’t com­mu­ni­cated with the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion about the fen­tanyl cri­sis at all. This lack of in­for­ma­tion and train­ing around fen­tanyl is deeply ir­re­spon­si­ble. Given the ex­tent to which Mcgill fosters party cul­ture, the ad­min­is­tra­tion must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for keep­ing stu­dents in­formed of that cul­ture’s in­her­ent risks.

In­di­vid­ual stu­dents, how­ever, should not wait for in­sti­tu­tional sup­port be­fore tak­ing ac­tion. No mat­ter the set­ting, from cam­pus par­ties to one’s own liv­ing room, it’s es­sen­tial that by­standers be equipped to pre­vent a fa­tal­ity. At the very least, they must be trained to spot the signs of a fen­tanyl over­dose in time to call for help. Th­ese signs include: se­vere sleepi­ness, shal­low breath­ing, lips and nails turn­ing blue, un­re­spon­sive­ness, gur­gling sounds or snor­ing, cold or clammy skin, and ab­nor­mally small pupils. In or­der to ad­dress the fen­tanyl cri­sis, Canada passed a law in May 2017 that prom­ises im­mu­nity from drug pos­ses­sion charges for any­one call­ing 911 to re­port an over­dose; while this rep­re­sents im­por­tant progress, it should be noted that racial­ized and non-sta­tus stu­dents will likely still face ha­rass­ment from law en­force­ment. In ad­di­tion to learn­ing the signs and seek­ing nalox­one train­ing, stu­dents must de­mand that Mcgill take con­crete and im­me­di­ate ac­tion to fight the fen­tanyl cri­sis.

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