By Allison Bellucci
The Durham community gathered outside of the Health Services building to celebrate about 600 students who have pledged to live a drug-free life.
Back in October 2014, Health Services held its annual “Red Ribbon Week,” a time to promote a drug-free life. Part of the Red Ribbon Campaign, the nation’s oldest and largest drug prevention program, UNH participates annually by planting tulips in the “promise garden” located on the side of the Health Services building downtown. When the red tulips bloom in April, also known as Alcohol Awareness Month, they are to serve as a reminder of the importance to live a drug-free life. Although the garden has yet to bloom due to the temperamental New England weather, green tulip stems poked out of the half-frozen dirt.
“It’s not just UNH planting tulips. These tulips represent a life of a student here at UNH who is not involved with drugs,” said Melissa Garvey a licensed clinical social worker and UNH alumna. “It’s a really important decision to make.”
The event was centered around the rise of heroin use in New Hampshire. According to Chris Placy, a member of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery, 324 people died in New Hampshire last year from an overdose, and that number is still growing.
Gov. Maggie Hassan could not be at the event, but sent a letter in lieu of her presence. Hassan wrote of her regret for not being able to attend the ceremony and thanked the UNH community for their hard work in addressing substance misuse on campus.
“Substance misuse is one of the most pressing public health and safety challenges facing our state, straining our families, hurting the productivity of our workers and undermining the safety of our communities,” Hassan wrote. “Student-based projects such as the ‘promise garden’ play a critical role in educating our citizens and raising awareness to reduce substance misuse and help contribute toward healthier, safer college campuses.”
Throughout the ceremony, prominent members of the community spoke out about the severity of the drug abuse issues. While discussing these matters, speakers heavily praised the many students who have pledged to remain drug-free as well as assist in efforts to move forward in the war against drug addiction and overdose.
One of these speakers was state Rep. Amanda Bouldin (D-Hillsborough). She discussed the possibility of a bill which would grant family and friends of heroin users to acquire the drug, Naloxone, commonly referred to as Narcan, an opioid antagonist that when administrated immediately can reverse the effect of an overdose. This would prevent brain damage and death for users unconscious from an overdose.
“It’s a pure opioid antagonist so the way that it works is when it enters the body it kicks the opiates out of the opioid receptors and the drug doesn’t have an effect for a short period of time,” Bouldin explained.
“It has a short half-life, it will work for 20 minutes or something. And that’s why when people overdose and end up in the hospital they end up on IV drip of Narcan…for a long period of time until the drugs fully wear off,” Bouldin said. “To have a short term dose of Narcan to administrate immediately when the overdose starts is pretty important because…you only have five minutes without breathing before brain damage…”
If the bill were to pass, a doctor would be able to write a Naloxone prescription for people such as parents of a user in fear of their child dying from overdose. The bill would also grant immunity from a civil suit to a doctor who prescribes Narcan.
“So, you know for doctors they spend a lot of time worrying who is going to sue them, what the rules are, so this makes it easy for them so they can administrate Narcan far more frequently without worrying that someone might wake up and say ‘I didn’t want my life to be saved’ which could otherwise maybe start a lawsuit,” Bouldin said.
One main concern about Narcan is that it could turn into another street drug, that people might take more heroin or other illegal substances knowing they have the Narcan drug to revive them. Bouldin describes this as an “urban legend” for many reasons, one being that when someone needs Narcan, they are unconscious and not breathing. Someone else would need to revive a person suffering from an overdose.
“Narcan makes you stone cold sober. It also sends you into withdrawals if you are addicted to the opiate, it’s not a pleasant experience,” Bouldin said. “That’s another reason it is pretty implausible anyone would use it recreationally. Withdrawal and opiate withdrawal is extremely painful. When people are going through that they don’t even want anyone to touch them.”
As a personal opinion, Garvey is also in favor of the implementation of the bill in New Hampshire. With multiple surrounding states already passing the law, New Hampshire may be next in line. Garvey said she has called her senator to represent the pursuit of this bill. Working and moving aggressively towards saving peoples’ lives and treatment recovery is something Garvey believes is key to this philosophy. But Garvey stresses that students can make a difference too.
“UNH students need to know that they have a voice in the political arena now and that these bills are going to affect their lives and the lives of people they know— their friends their family—and they can be an advocate, they can call their senators, they can call their representatives and let them know what they think of it,” Garvey said. “I hope to inspire them to be more politically motivated or just better advocates for what’s going on out there.”
The “Promise Pledge” symbolizes a drug-free life, the campaign is not for sobriety or abstinence from alcohol. There is no expectation that someone will not drink for the rest of his or her life. The campaign is specifically for a drug-free life although stressing the importance of responsible drinking, which has been deemed the number one concern of drug abuse on campus.
“We need to spend our time on the alcohol issue because it is so pervasive. Not everybody, there are a lot of students who don’t drink at all, some who drink very little and most students drink responsibly,” Kevin Charles, executive director of Health Services said. “But, most students are underage, which makes it a huge challenge. I do think alcohol is the drug of choice and where we need to spend our resources and time on and that is where we make most of our progress too.”
Maggie Wells, Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program education outreach coordinator, is one of the many event participants who preached the importance of knowing your own personal limits.
“The message is we are not asking people to not drink, like we’re really not saying don’t ever drink,” Wells said. “You can go out, have a good time, and have a couple of drinks, a few drinks. But when you go out and you’re having a good time and you go over that limit, that is when the good time becomes really risky.”
Kurtz stressed the fact that the police are not around to just arrest students and that their goal is to make sure everyone is safe.
“My kind of line is you really have to work to be arrested in Durham. You’ve got to be over, whatever that is, you got to be over to be arrested. And we know that every kid, if you wanted to do this, you could probably arrest every kid who walked down Main Street if they are under the age of 21, because internal possession is against the law. But that’s not what we are doing, nor do we want to.”
Although there is a lot of imzportant information that the community of UNH safety advocates believe are important for students to know, Kevin Charles summed up many of these messages in one prevailing statement on what he believes students should always remember.
“How devastating one little bad decision can be. One night, one circumstance, it seems like everything is normal,” Charles said. “The good is that there are a whole lot of people who care here…the one big thing is everyone really cares and no one wants anybody to get hurt. Whatever decision you make now can stay with you for your entire life.”