A New Brunswick university has stocked up on naloxone to prepare for the possibility of an opioid overdose on campus, and at least two other universities in the province are looking into the idea.
The move comes as the deadly fentanyl crisis continues to sweep east across the country.
Fentanyl is a prescription painkiller about 100 times more powerful than morphine and often leads to overdoses.
Mount Allison University in Sackville now has the potentially life-saving antidote naloxone on campus and two security guards who are qualified to administer the medication, confirmed spokesperson Laura Dillman Ripley.
Additional staff will also be trained in how to inject naloxone, she said in an email to CBC News.
"This would be a competency training to complement but not to take the place of a 911 call, which is the first response," said Dillman Ripley.
The university will continue to work closely with local first responders, including paramedics and RCMP officers, to "ensure the safest and most efficient response in the event of an incident," she said.
The University of New Brunswick is considering acquiring naloxone "as a precautionary measure," said spokesperson David Stonehouse, noting neither of its campuses in Saint John and Fredericton have experienced an overdose.
"As we look at this, we will be consulting with health and security professionals to ensure that, should we decide to take this step, the safety of everyone on our campuses remains paramount, including those that might be given the responsibility of administering naloxone," he said in an email.
In the meantime, if an overdose should occur, the university's advice is to call 911 and rely on the expertise of first responders, said Stonehouse, noting both campuses are located close to hospitals.
'It's smart to be proactive and I applaud the universities that are doing so.' - Jeffrey Carleton, St. Thomas University
St. Thomas University in Fredericton plans to consult with the province's chief medical officer of health on the issue in the coming days, said spokesperson Jeffrey Carleton.
"We're going to … make sure we understand the risks and see what we can do to be best prepared," he said.
STU will also co-ordinate with UNB, which provides campus security services, before making any decisions about whether to have naloxone on site, said Carleton.
"They're right across the street from our campus, the Dr. Everett Chalmers (Regional) Hospital is a block away, so we'll take all those factors into account as we decide what position we're going to take."
STU has not had any overdoses on campus, "but that doesn't mean we're not going to," said Carleton.
"It's smart to be proactive and I applaud the universities that are doing so."
The University of Moncton plans to hold a drug awareness campaign in November to educate students about opioids, said spokesperson Jean-Luc Thériault.
Expected surge in fentanyl overdoses
Across Atlantic Canada, governments have stepped up monitoring of opioid-related overdoses, preparing for an expected surge in overdoses related to fentanyl.
In New Brunswick, public health officials have started tracking non-fatal opioid overdoses through paramedics and hospital emergency rooms.
Between March and July, at least 47 people were treated for opioid overdoses in the province and survived. That number does not capture people who died from an overdose or people who were revived outside a hospital with naloxone.
For several months, the New Brunswick government has been studying whether to follow the lead of other provinces like Alberta and Nova Scotia and expand publicly funded access to naloxone. The kits cost about $35.
At least three universities in Nova Scotia have been stocking up on naloxone and training staff, students and security officers on how to administer the drug.
The University of King's College campus in Halifax has naloxone kits available with first-aid kits, which are carried by residence staff and are also accessible through King's residence reception desk, dean of students Nicholas Hatt has said.
About 70 people on campus are trained, he said.
Students can also request their own kit through Dalhousie University's health and wellness office, to which King's students have full access, said Hatt.
Cape Breton University and St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish are also taking a proactive approach, officials have said.