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UC Backs Letter to President Bacow Calling for Publicly Accessible Naloxone

Some students want Narcan to be available in AED boxes like this one across campus. HUHS Director Paul Barreira, however, has questioned the logistics of the proposed initiative.
Some students want Narcan to be available in AED boxes like this one across campus. HUHS Director Paul Barreira, however, has questioned the logistics of the proposed initiative. By Sung Kwang Oh
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

The Undergraduate Council signed on to a letter last week addressed to University President Lawerence S. Bacow and incoming Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen pushing for publicly accessible Naloxone on Harvard’s campus.

Two recent College graduates ⁠— Eana X. Meng ’19 and Kailash S. Sundaram ’19 ⁠— spearheaded the letter, which appealed the decision by HUHS in April to decline to make Naloxone publicly available in automatic external defibrillator boxes located around campus. Mutiple Harvard professors, Mayor Marc C. McGovern, and the Undergraduate Council have all signed onto the letter.

“I think that a large part of the reason that we wanted to sign onto this is because we try to represent not only student interest, but also the interest of the community surrounding us,” said Sanika S. Mahajan '21, chair of the UC Committee on the Health, Safety, and Willness Committee.

The letter references the efforts of Harvard for Opioid Overdose Prevention and Education, a group started by Meng and Sundaram focused on breaking the stigma surrounding opioid use. The group also works on issues relating to Harvard's relationship the City of Cambridge. After HUHS declined to provide Naloxone in AED boxes last spring, Meng and Sundaram formed the group in June.

The letter comes after a 26-year-old man fatally overdosed on the steps of Blue Bottle Cafe, located at 40 Bow St., last July. Swathi R. Srinivasan ’21, one of the group’s co-directors, said she had hoped that HOOPE wouldn’t need to push for Naloxone availability because of a specific overdose incident.

“We were hoping that it wouldn't have to be in the circumstances that something [had] already happened,” Srinivasan said.

HUHS told Meng and Sundaram that first responders carry naloxone and that they have a quick response time, according to Meng. But in Meng’s opinion, the fatal overdose proved their push for Naloxone in AED boxes was necessary.

“It was really hard to read about it, because this is exactly the thing that we were trying to prevent,” Meng said.

HUHS Spokesperson Michael Perry wrote in an email to The Crimson that HUHS “will continue to consider the possibility of Narcan in our AED boxes when we have more data.”

“HUHS is committed to ongoing conversations across the Harvard community to determine best ways to address emergent situations such as overdose and better understand opioid use on our campus through our health assessment survey that we will distribute this academic year,” he wrote.

Srinivasan said that though she recognizes that decisions take time, she believes the opioid crisis warrants immediate action.

“It’s not to be overly harsh,” Srinivasan said. “I know people have priorities, but this is one for the world.”

HOOPE has received wide-spread support from Harvard Medical School professors and Boston-based RIZE, a non-profit focused on combating the opioid epidemic.

McGovern himself has also offered support in their push to fight the epidemic. In an email to The Crimson, McGovern wrote that he will continue to work with Harvard and other universities in Cambridge on “this vital harm reduction strategy.”

“The opioid crisis crosses all demographics and boundaries. Making Naloxone more readily available will save lives. I was happy to sign this letter and to work with students on this issue,” he wrote.

Correction: Oct. 2, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated attributed the statement "It's not to be overly harsh... I know people have priorities but this is one for the world," to Eana X. Meng '19. In fact, Swathi R. Srinivasan ’21 said the statement.

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