KOKOMO, Ind. —Every four minutes, one person dies of a drug overdose.
At Indiana University Kokomo, a nursing faculty member fights the opioid epidemic by equipping other faculty, students, and staff to administer lifesaving medication.
Leigh Swartzendruber, clinical assistant professor of nursing, leads short training sessions in how to administer NARCAN, a nasal spray designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes.
She started working with Overdose Lifeline in 2021, when she brought the topic to her nursing ethics class. Learning there had been an increase in overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, she began offering training for School of Nursing and Allied Health Professions (SNAHP) faculty, staff, and students. She now offers the training to anyone on campus, noting that it won’t hurt the person it’s given to, and those who are trained to administer it are covered under Good Samaritan laws.
“The more people who can be trained, the better our community will be,” said Swartzendruber, “We’re essentially equipping them to save a life. That’s what we want to do, by getting NARCAN in the hands of more individuals. With the training, you can carry it on your person, and if a situation arises where someone might be overdosing, you can administer it and give them a little more time until EMS can arrive, and more personnel.”
She said the stereotype is that NARCAN is only administered to hard-core drug addicts, but sometimes the victims have accidentally ingested stimulants or other medications that are laced with Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid prescribed for severe pain that has been a contributor to the opioid crisis.
People will buy pills online, she said, which can lead to an accidental overdose.
“You can order these things online. It’s scary how accessible these things are,” she said. “They think they are getting one thing, and inadvertently they don’t know what they are getting. It just takes a grain of salt dose of Fentanyl to kill someone.”
Swartzendruber said overdose deaths are up 37 percent in Indiana, including in the counties surrounding the campus. The COVID pandemic exacerbated drug and alcohol addiction issues, she said, adding that it will take a while to turn that around.
She received a grant from IU Kokomo’s Women of the Well House giving circle to offer free training. The week before spring break, 20 students and five faculty members completed the training, and she will offer additional sessions not only on campus, but in the community.
“It’s starting to take off,” she said. “There’s a definite need, and people are starting to see that.”