Several University of Wisconsin-Madison residence and dining halls now house Nalox-ZONE boxes, containing the medicine Naloxone, to prevent possible drug overdoses. The boxes are placed among other emergency tools such as AEDs and fire extinguishers as a way of making them easy to find and as common as other safety tools.
The purpose behind the boxes is to help reduce the possibility of drug overdoses on campus, especially with the rise in fentanyl-laced drugs. University Health Services Assistant Director of High-Risk Drinking Jenny Damask said cheap, potent fentanyl is being added to drugs and distributed, leaving many at risk.
“People are dying from drugs laced with fentanyl,” Damask said. “We had an incident pretty close to home where a student in a residence hall at UW-Milwaukee passed away from a fentanyl overdose.”
Other University of Wisconsin System schools have implemented these safety boxes in common areas. UW-Madison used the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh as the blueprint for the Nalox-ZONE box installation, Damask explained. The contents in the box are two doses of a nasal spray Naloxone, also known as Narcan, and a CPR face mask.
Damask wants people to understand that fentanyl lacing is occurring in Dane County and surrounding areas. Discussing the problem and normalizing solutions in university buildings is one of the first steps of destigmatizing the topic, she said.
“It's not like this far off thing, it's in our community,” Damask said. “I would hope more people will see the boxes as a thing that we have, where there's no stigma. It's just we have it and it could save a life.”
Along with reducing stigma, raising awareness for young adults about the Nalox-ZONE boxes will help them feel more comfortable using the drug if necessary in an emergency. Chadbourne Residential College House Fellow Kaldan Kopp made his residents aware of the boxes along with their purpose and how to access the simple instructions on the nasal spray.
“I texted the GroupMe about the boxes,” Kopp said. “I just told my residents it's downstairs, and I also mentioned it in one of my floor meetings.”
Along with informing his floor of the location of the box, Kopp also explained the simple steps that can be followed along with using the box’s contents. He said residents should use the narcan, call 911 and then call the House Fellow on duty.
While Kopp mentioned the Nalox-ZONE boxes to his residents, Kronshage Residence Hall resident and first-year student Callie Goodman was only notified of the boxes through a screen in Four Lakes Market, the dining hall housed in Dejope Residence Hall.
“The only reason I knew about the boxes was because they had an ad for them in the dining hall. I stopped and looked at it and saw that they had different locations around campus, but no one's ever talked about it,” Goodman said.
Barnard Residence Hall resident and sophomore G.M. Shields had a similar experience, and only became aware of the box installation through emails and residence hall information boards.
Both residents agreed they had no concrete idea as to where the boxes were located in dorms and which dorms housed them.
“If I were in a situation where I had to locate it, the first place I would have looked would be near the AED because that's where emergency items would be, but I've never actually seen it,” Shields said.
Damask and Kopp said the boxes should be used if you ever suspect an overdose. Using the narcan will not harm the individual, even if they are not overdosing.
“If you suspect someone took something and they're having an overdose, there's no great harm to being wrong and using it,” Kopp said. “It's better to be safe than sorry.”
All House Fellows went through an hour-long training session to understand how to use the Naloxone and where it would be located. The group was trained by health department professionals who assisted in the installation process, Kopp explained.
UW-Madison worked with the Wisconsin Voices for Recovery movement to install the boxes around campus. The movement team worked with residence halls to place the boxes and monitor the contents inside, according to Damask.
The Nalox-Zone boxes have a WiFi connection that emails residence life coordinators when the box is opened. Signals are sent to the individuals monitoring the box to check and see if it needs to be refilled. Wisconsin Voices for Recovery then comes to replenish the boxes.
While the Narcan doses can be used in an emergency, Damask and Kopp agreed some people feel safer having it in their possession, such as in their backpack or dorm room, as a safety precaution.
“I know some people ordered it themselves because you can get certified, order it, and keep it, so I'm considering doing that as well,” Kopp said.
Damask believes having a free safety measure open to all UW-Madison students is going to be beneficial for everyone on campus.
“We’re almost prescribing Naloxone campus wide and making it free, which is lifting a huge, huge barrier from act to access,” Damask said. “This is just a way to make it more available and free.
“If you need it, you should take it,” Damask added.
Goodman and Shields agree there is a sense of comfort that comes with knowing the Nalox-ZONE boxes are in place. However, the next step is to educate and further inform the residents, they said.
“It's nice and comforting to know that if someone needed it, they could get help for us, especially from another student,” Goodman said. “I think the university should do one of those information modules that you have to do for sexual assault and alcohol for these boxes. Students have to know where they are and how to use them because you don't have much time when an emergency happens.”
Shields agreed with the idea of creating new information modules on the Naloxone doses and added that sending emails is not enough to truly inform students.
“I would bet that most people don't read those emails. I would be willing to bet the majority of students do not know the boxes were installed,” Shields said. “Out of the whole student body, definitely a minority of people know, but even of the people who do live in UW Housing, I definitely think it's a minority. It should have been more than email because not everyone reads emails.”
Damask and Kopp want students on campus to understand there is no harm in trying to help others. The Nalox-ZONE boxes are in place as a safety measure that should be used without stigmatization in an emergency situation, just as any other tool would be, they explained.
“I hope we never need it, but if we do, it's there. That's the same way I feel about an AED and a fire extinguisher. That's the kind of thing I want to normalize,” Damask said. “We have a lot of work to do to still educate our students on what Naloxone is, how to use it, and what fentanyl lacing is, but this is a start.”