Kaitlin Kennedy, a member of the Class of 2021, welcomes students to the naloxone training session.
AUBURN, Alabama- Opioids and synthetic opioids are a growing cause of overdose deaths both in the United States and in Alabama, accounting for nearly half of all overdose deaths in Alabama.
In an effort to combat this growing trend, students from the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s chapter of the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists, or CPNP, teamed up with the Center for Opioid Research, Education and Outreach to provide training on the use of naloxone, the opioid antidote.
Naloxone, found in the injectable Evzio and nasal spray Narcan, is a reversal agent administered when someone is exhibiting signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose. It dislodges the offending opioid from saturated receptors, attaching to them with higher affinity, resuscitating the patient and restoring respiratory function. This allows the patient time to be treated by medical professionals and stabilized.
“Naloxone in its various forms is made to be easy to use,” said Kaitlin Kennedy, a member of HSOP’s Class of 2021. “The most common agent used is Narcan, a single-use nasal spray product. The device is lightweight and compact and is held in between your index and middle finger and the plunger dispensed with your thumb. I keep my dose in my backpack, I always have it on me.”
Dr. Greg Peden delivers the naloxone training.
A participant inspects a Narcan nasal spray training device.
Kennedy and other CPNP members held multiple training sessions during the 2019-20 academic year, training more than 300 students from both the Harrison School of Pharmacy and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The training sessions include foundational knowledge of opioids, pertinent brain chemistry, an overview of substance use disorder as a disease state, risk factors, different naloxone agents and their roles in overdose reversal, appropriate emergency response measures, insurance coverage and a background of the standing order and state and national laws as they relate to Naloxone.
“One of the most impactful parts of the training, in my opinion, is a video that is shown of a man experiencing an overdose,” said Kennedy. “It is a very distinct presentation of symptoms. Once you have seen it, you will never forget the way that a person overdosing looks and it is so important that we can recognize it and act fast.”
Kennedy said it is important for students, particularly health care students, to be aware of the signs and proper course of action, should they encounter someone experiencing an overdose. Additionally, it is important to understand that someone can overdose even when taking a prescribed medication as the problem is not limited to illicit drug abuse.
“Students will be coming face-to-face with effects of the opioid epidemic in their practice,” said Kennedy. “As pharmacists, we have incredible potential to protect our patients and I want to remind students that we can make it our responsibility. We can become another check point that the patient must pass before becoming a victim of this.”
For Kennedy, being a part of the training was personal as she herself is recovering from her own addiction to alcohol.
“The naloxone project has given me an outlet to find purpose in a very difficult time in my life,” said Kennedy. “Over three years ago, I became a process of recovery from an active addiction to alcohol. Living a sober life today is one of the greatest gifts of my life. It restored my family, brought me more friendships than I can count and allowed me to dedicate my life to pharmacy.”
She also credits health care providers for playing a pivotal role in her process.
“I wouldn’t have the life that I live today if it were not for health care providers that were trained and dedicated to fight for their patients,” said Kennedy. “I have always felt it was my responsibility to be vocal about the way that their interventions saved my life. I want my peers to know that they hold this potential for their future patients.”
Addictions can be difficult to talk about and are complex and unique, depending on the drug and the person. Along with training on the tools and resources available, being able to discuss the problem openly is a big step in battling the crisis.
“We can become so desensitized to tragedy when we use numbers. The numbers are important in showing the magnitude of this, but my passion is renewed when I think of one person,” said Kennedy. “At one point I had set out to understand the science of addiction, and it is very complex. It will always be a work in progress instead of a box that I can check and I think it is productive to be refreshed on the basics constantly. I have presented and listened to this training over 10 times and every time I learn something new.”
Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 25 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. The School's commitment to world-class scholarship and interdisciplinary research speaks to Auburn's overarching Carnegie R1 designation that places Auburn among the top 100 doctoral research universities in the nation. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.