Student leaders preparing for the fall term at the University of Ottawa have been forbidden from administering the opioid antidote naloxone while on duty during special events to welcome freshmen next week.
The university's student federation, which organizes "101 Week," has partnered with the Ottawa Hospital to train its student leaders to spot the signs of drug overdose, and to respond quickly.
Initially, the training was meant to include the proper application of the potentially life-saving antidote naloxone.
"The idea we came up with first was to assign 100 people during 101 Week who would be trained to use naloxone kits," said Hadi Wess, president of the student federation.
But the federation, which could soon be governed under Ontario's Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, learned from its lawyers that it could be held liable if student leaders fail to administer the antidote properly and injure someone, so decided against distributing naloxone kits.
Wess said the decision has been controversial within the federation, but said discussions about allowing student leaders to carry naloxone in the future are ongoing.
While student leaders are not being equipped, the university says training is being offered to its protection officers for the use of the naloxone nasal spray kits should it needed in an incident on campus.
Some student leaders already carrying kits
Head 101 Week leader Eve Staszczyszyn said she purchased her own naloxone kits at an Ottawa pharmacy when she became concerned about the opioid crisis.
"They can save someone's life. I have two at home and I carry one around with me just in case. I do think that we need to take a step further even and hopefully next year we can have these naloxone kits."
Karim Abu Zeid, another 101 Week leader, also carries a naloxone kit.
"I've witnessed quite a few overdoses out at other events," he said. "I am definitely supportive of using naloxone kits."
But Staszczyszyn and Abu Zeid won't be able to use their kits while on duty next week, said Wess.
"During the shifts, the leaders are not allowed to administer naloxone kits at all, even if they have them in their bag," he said. "After their shifts, they can use them."
Medical professionals are advising student leaders who encounter a suspected overdose to keep the victim's airways clear, administer CPR and call 911.