UW-Eau Claire in the fight against opioid overdoses

From Narcan dispensers to fentanyl test strips, how the university is responding to nationwide crisis


Evelyn Nelson

The 19 Nalox-Zone boxes placed across the UW-Eau Claire campus are located near accessible entryways students utilize on a regular basis. Each box contains a two-pack of Narcan nasal spray, CPR masks for respiratory assistance, instructions on how to administer the nasal spray and the city’s local recovery resources. © Evelyn Nelson, 2023

As laced opioids become a more prevalent danger nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says public access to anti-overdose kits is a critical component of the public health response to the opioid overdose epidemic. Officials with the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire said the campus has resolved to take action against the rising presence of opioids in the community. 

Spread out across the UWEC campus, you can find Nalox-Zone Boxes. These boxes contain Narcan nasal spray, which is commonly used to prevent opioid overdose deaths, along with instructions on how to use them.

Christy Prust, a health educator at UWEC, said that the installation of these Narcan boxes became an initiative across all UW schools after two students died from opioid overdoses at UW-Milwaukee in 2021.

UWEC now has a total of 19 boxes set up and ready for use. You can find these boxes in residence halls and other highly trafficked areas on campus, adjacent to provisional AEDs. 

Nalox-Zone Box Map used with permission by the Eau Claire County Health Department and UW-Eau Claire Student Health Service. Submitted, 2023

Brian Drollinger, director of risk management, safety and sustainability at UW-Eau Claire said the university’s ultimate goal with this initiative is to save lives. 

“Opioid overdoses continue to be a leading factor in deaths in Wisconsin and nationally. UWEC has recognized that fact and wanted to take the initiative to provide, or make available to campus, a potentially life-saving resource called Narcan,” Drollinger said. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) collects reports of suspected opioid overdose ambulance runs within Wisconsin. The latest data from the DHS shows there have been 37 opioid overdose ambulance runs in Eau Claire County so far this year. The majority of cases involved men between 25 to 35 years old. 

Public health specialist Sarah Dillivan-Pospisil said that in Eau Claire County, opioid misuse is growing and fentanyl may be at the heart of the problem.

“We’ve had an increase in fentanyl within our community as well as across the state, Dillivan-Pospisil said. “In 2022, there were 106 opioid-related non-fatal overdoses that happened within our county.”

Dillivan-Pospisil said one reason for the increased presence of fentanyl-related overdoses is that merely two milligrams is considered a potentially lethal dose and it is often mixed with other drugs.

“Fentanyl, it is a very strong or potent opioid — it only takes a small amount to overdose,” Dillivan-Pospisil said. “Fentanyl is something you cannot see. You cannot smell it. You cannot taste it. So an individual currently using drugs might not know that fentanyl is in their product.”

Signs of an opioid overdose include troubled or slow breathing, sleepiness, trouble waking from sleep, cool or clammy skin and bluish or purple lips or fingernails, according to DHS.

Narcan should be used if a person is exhibiting any signs of opioid overdose, Dillivan-Pospisil said, as the medicated spray quickly counteracts a potential overdose by blocking the brain from the detrimental effects of opioids. 

Narcan is a safe substance that anyone can use in the instance of an overdose. If you think someone is experiencing symptoms of an overdose, Prust recommends that you use the spray to be safe.

“When in doubt, administer it,” Prust said. 

Drollinger said a person does not need formal training in order to administer Narcan to others. The provided instruction booklet in the Nalox-Zone box explains the process adequately. 

“It is fairly easy and is basically a 1-2-3 step process,” Drollinger said. 

Mikkoy Barrow, a second-year geography major, views an informational resource on Narcan administration, accessible through the UW-Eau Claire Student Health Service. Narcan nasal sprays are not a substitute for emergency medical care, the training reports. © Evelyn Nelson, 2023

In the fall of 2022, UW-Eau Claire partnered with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department to provide in-person training to UWEC students about opioid awareness and how to administer Narcan. Prust said SHS hopes to provide future informational sessions next fall. 

Online training videos are also available to students and take only three to five minutes to complete. 

Prust furthered that it is imperative to call 911 even after safely administering Narcan to an individual. 

“You’re going to want to call 911 right away because the Narcan can wear off and the person could start to overdose again,” Prust said. 

Since the installation of the Nalox-Zone boxes on the UWEC campus in September 2022, these boxes have been opened 28 times, Drollinger said. In those instances, Narcan spray was removed 12 times.

Julie Seidling, a second-year environmental geography student, examines the contents inside a Nalox-Zone Box located in the Suites residence hall on upper campus. © Evelyn Nelson, 2023

“Sometimes it is just someone wanting to see what it looks like or is interested in what is inside the box. In almost all of the 12 times, we are unaware if the Narcan was immediately used for an overdose, or if the person just took it for a friend or possibly for a future overdose situation,” Drollinger said. 

In addition to having Narcan readily available, UWEC has gone even further in the fight against opioid misuse. Posters raising awareness of the opioid crisis can be found around campus and in every bathroom stall of the residence halls, Prust said.

The Dean of Students Office, Counseling Services and Student Health Service also have fentanyl test strips they can give out to students who disclose drug use. Prust said she is currently working to provide these test strips in discrete locations across campus for students to take freely. 

Christy Prust, Health Educator for Health Promotion at Student Health Service, models the fentanyl test strips resource guide UW-Eau Claire hopes to release in the upcoming academic school year. © Evelyn Nelson, 2023

“I’m just trying to figure out where they could be placed so that folks feel comfortable taking them and not worry that somebody’s going to follow me if I use this right now,” Prust said. 

Prust said the university does not condone illegal drug use, but the reality is some students may be using drugs that are potentially laced with fentanyl. These initiatives are simply preventative measures.  

“Some people don’t even know what it [fentanyl] is or that it could potentially be in the products that they get,” Prust said. “What we’re trying to do is save folks’ lives.”

Walleser can be reached at [email protected]