The University of Arkansas System’s Criminal Justice Institute has expanded its efforts in combating opioid overdoses through the FDA-approved naloxone, an antidote to opioid overdose.

Earlier this year, the Criminal Justice Institute received a $150,000 grant from the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas to purchase 1,390 naloxone kits for first responders, a group which now includes officers in the University of Arkansas at Monticello’s police department.

Naloxone is a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid drug overdose if administered in time and followed up appropriately. Hundreds of lives have been saved in Arkansas through the administration of this nasal spray, according to a Criminal Justice Institute news release.

Narcan is a commonly recognized brand name of naloxone.

UAM Police Chief John Kidwell contacted the Criminal Justice Institute about participating in the program which called for the adoption of policies and procedures in line with best practices. It also required the completion of a two-hour online training through the Criminal Justice Institute demonstrating the proper use of naloxone. As of July, every UAM police officer has completed the training.

All UAM police officers now carry naloxone while on duty because an opioid overdose can occur quickly, according to Kidwell.

“We don’t run into overdose often, but it happens,” Kidwell said. “A big concern is accidental exposure to fentanyl. One of our officers could come into contact with fentanyl during an investigation or while assisting an off-campus agency. Just touching residue on the outside of a package containing fentanyl could lead to an overdose for an officer. I want the naloxone for helping an officer in trouble as well as for a drug user.”

In an effort to encourage immediate calls for emergency assistance in the event of an overdose, Arkansas in 2015 adopted the Joshua Ashley-Pauley Act. The law protects a person from arrest and prosecution for drug possession if he or she seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose.

The federal government in 2017 declared the opioid crisis in the United States a public health emergency. More recently, statewide efforts to increase awareness on college campuses about the misuse and or abuse of opioids resulted in 19 universities hosting student-led events in March. The “Save AR Students,” awareness events at UAM included a seminar, an expert roundtable and a wellness fair.