The future is now: Vending machines in 2023 dispense cannabis, beer, art, cupcakes, and now the life-saving drug Narcan, as we race into an automated world.
Santa Clara University (SCU) in California announced the installation of a free on-campus vending machine that dispenses canisters of the opioid-overdose reversing medication Narcan.
“Naloxone is a miracle drug that can reverse an opioid overdose within minutes,” Santa Clara University Assistant Professor of Public Health Jamie Chang told NBC Bay Area. “To not provide this seemed really counterintuitive to a lot of public health principles.”
One of the goals is to avoid the stigma surrounding opioid overdoses, and instead see Narcan as a life-saving instant solution. The fact is that people die because friends are afraid to dial 911, or are unaware of Good Samaritan laws that protect people from trying to save a life from an overdose. But students need to have the Narcan on-hand in order to act fast in most situations.
“Our goal for this is to get naloxone out into the community because the more naloxone that people have in their hands, the more chances there are to save a life,” student Isabella Bunkers said.
The vending machine concept is likely coming to a university near you. The Mercury News reports that Stanford University plans to introduce one in a few weeks. “SCU is a party school, so drug use is something that we know happens on campus, off campus or near campus,” said Setareh Tehrani, who helped launch the project.
The idea was inspired by the death of Charlie Ternan, a former SCU student, who died of fentanyl poisoning while his friends thought he was asleep at an off-campus fraternity in 2020.
This arrives as one in five youth deaths in California are blamed on fentanyl and opioids, according to preliminary data from the California Department of Vital Statistics. Fentanyl killed a record 5,722 Californians in 2021, much more than the estimated 4,258 people who died in auto accidents in the state and more than twice the 2,548 killed in homicides.
You don’t even have to be looking for fentanyl to overdose from it: Two students at Ohio State University died from fentanyl overdoses, according to a May 5 announcement by the Columbus Police Department, and officials say the fentanyl was disguised as Adderall.
While Narcan can cost up to $150 without insurance, most students can’t afford the cost, which is one of the core purposes of the project. Additionally, when someone is overdosing on an opioid, fumbling around for a payment method might take too long to save a life.
“The first thing is that it’s free, and it’s in a place that is widely accessible to students,” said Chang, who helped launch the campus vending machine. “(But even) regardless of whether or not students decide to take the Naloxone, we’re hoping that it at least sends the message that they need to take this seriously and that there are tools out there for them.”
Under California’s Senate Bill 367, public colleges in California, public schools are required to provide access to Narcan on campuses. Some high schools in the state are taking the initiative to provide Narcan for students.
Santa Clara County is considering installing similar vending machines on high school campuses.
“People are more aware of fentanyl. We’ve talked about it everywhere, from Greek life to club sports to varsity sports,” said Olivia Pruett, a senior who studies public health. But Narcan “is only effective if people have it when they need it. This conversation has to keep happening.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Minnesota are trying to pass a bill that would require schools in the state to have the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan available in the event of an emergency situation.