The Charger Blog

Critical Training Prepares Students to Respond to Opioid Overdoses with Lifesaving Care

A training session held recently at the University brought together Chargers and a community nonprofit, teaching students how to administer NARCAN to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The session helped them learn how they can be changemakers in a nationwide crisis, teaching them how to offer support while also reducing the stigma of opioid addiction.

May 15, 2024

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Chargers take part in NARCAN training at the University of New 51.
Chargers take part in NARCAN training at the University of New 51.

As a counselor-in-training, Annabel Oppong ’25 M.A. worried about how she would handle an opioid overdose if she were ever faced with one. Now, thanks to a training session she took part in at the University of New 51, she feels confident in her ability to handle such a crisis.

A candidate in the University’s graduate program in clinical mental health counseling, Oppong understands that the opioid crisis is a very real concern across the country. She was grateful for the opportunity to learn a critical – and potentially lifesaving – skill: how to administer NARCAN, the brand name of naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose.

“Being provided with this training is essential,” she said. “I think it will provide me as well as other students with the skills to respond effectively to opioid overdoses. It will potentially save the lives of clients and people in the community. This training demonstrates the University’s commitment to harm-reduction and well-being.”

‘Opioid overdoses can happen anywhere’

The training was offered as part of a collaboration between the University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) Program's “Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling” course and the West 51 Prevention Council, which raises awareness about substance use in the city through prevention education.

More than two dozen students took part in the training, discussing the opioid crisis and how it has impacted countless people around the country. They learned how to obtain NARCAN kits, gaining an understanding of the importance of access. They also addressed the signs of an overdose, how to properly use NARCAN to reverse the effects of opioids, and the next steps they’d take to care for an individual who has suffered an overdose.

“Opioid overdoses can happen anywhere, including during therapy sessions,” explains Taylor Bigelow, Ph.D., the students’ professor and coordinator of the CMHC program. “Mental health counselors might encounter clients who are struggling with opioid addiction or who have loved ones dealing with addiction. Mental health counselors can play a crucial role in educating clients and their families about the signs of overdose and how to administer NARCAN.”

‘I could save someone's life’

This training, says Dr. Bigelow, can help empower mental health counselors to promote additional training sessions, as well as community partnerships and efforts to help combat the opioid crisis. Counselors typically collaborate in interdisciplinary teams with medical professionals, and having NARCAN training fosters their ability to provide comprehensive care to clients who may be at risk.

For Amber Smith ’25 M.A., having the ability to make an impact on the lives of clients was particularly meaningful.

“Even if I never have to administer the medication, having the knowledge and understanding around it is essential as a budding counselor,” said Smith, a candidate in the University’s graduate program in clinical mental health counseling. “I feel confident that if needed, I could save someone's life with the knowledge and demonstration I was provided.”

‘Reducing the impact of opioid overdoses’

Language was another critical tool the students gained from the training. Specifically, they learned about the importance of being mindful of the words they use when speaking to and about those struggling with addiction, as well as about addiction itself. The hope is that by training students to use language that fosters respect and avoids judgment, students will communicate that addiction is a health challenge that requires a compassionate and effective response. It is an important way to reduce the stigma that still surrounds opioid addiction.

Oppong left the training with confidence – and a NARCAN kit, which she received free of charge. Though she hopes she’ll never have to use it, she now feels prepared, should that day come. And if it does, she now knows how to use it to potentially save a life.

“This training has equipped me to handle crisis situations and to take proactive steps in ensuring harm reduction while contributing to the safety and well-being of both clients and the community,” she said. “The training served and continues to serve as a valuable resource in reducing the impact of opioid overdoses.”