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Opioid Overdose on Campus: Key Steps to Expand Harm Reduction Efforts

Equip students, staff, and faculty with the knowledge and tools to intervene effectively in an opioid emergency

Approximately every 6 minutes and 21 seconds, there is a fatal opioid overdose in the United States. Despite the increasing availability of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, most institutions of higher education are not currently prepared to effectively intervene in an opioid overdose by students, staff, faculty, guests, or other community members. With each overdose that touches our campus communities, directly or indirectly, one harrowing truth underlines the tragedy and calls for action: every overdose death is preventable if a bystander intervenes with naloxone in time.

With approximately 19 million Americans being enrolled in a post-secondary education program, our institutions have both a responsibility to support students and an opportunity to dramatically impact the direction of the overdose crisis through equipping students, staff, and faculty with the knowledge and tools to intervene effectively in an opioid emergency.

As recently as March 13, 2024, the current administration and U.S. Department of Education has called for universities to join the efforts to save lives through harm reduction practices: The White House and the U.S. Department of Education called on schools, colleges, and universities to have opioid overdose reversal medications on-site and ensure that students and employees are prepared to use these medications to save a life on campus and also as they move throughout the larger community. Now is the time to take action. The question many campuses are left asking is: How?

NASPA, SAFE Project, and the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery (HECAOD) recommend that campuses engage in the process of developing effective opioid overdose prevention and response strategies on their campus. Our organizations are committed to supporting every campus in their endeavors to initiate or advance this work through the following resources:

  • Checklist for beginning/expanding efforts for harm reduction on campus, referenced in this post;
  • Free opioid overdose prevention and response toolkit to support institutions’ strategic planning and programmatic efforts using the Strategic Prevention Framework (coming soon).

We also acknowledge the dedication and commitment of our colleagues at other organizations and institutions who are working to improve access to life saving-resources and developing comprehensive services on campus. There is still lots to learn as a field, and we look forward to continuing to share our knowledge and expertise collectively. We encourage you to review this checklist, evaluate your campus’s current standing, and connect with us if you want to be an active part of this effort and/or receive the toolkit when it’s available. 

Checklist Resource

The following is a checklist of the basic building blocks of an effective and sustainable opioid overdose prevention and response strategy. It is recommended to use this resource as a starting point. This is not an exhaustive, one-size-fits-all list. It takes time to implement these promising practices and change culture, depending on your campus needs. You can download a PDF version of the checklist here.

An institution prepared to prevent and intervene with life-saving care in the instance of an opioid overdose will have some form of all of the following:

  • On-campus naloxone availability for emergency response regarding incidents that involve students, faculty, staff, guests, and on-campus living spaces (if applicable). Naloxone should be able to be accessed and administered within 5 minutes of identifying a potential overdose.
  • Naloxone available for distribution to students and staff for on and off-campus emergencies.
  • Regularly occurring in-person on-campus opioid overdose response training and readily accessible online opioid overdose response training for students, faculty, and staff.
  • Establishment and regular communication of Good Samaritan/Responsible Exemption Policies within the Student and Employee Codes of Conduct. These policies encourage overdose intervention without fear of punishment from responding or impacted parties.
  • Campus policies and procedures for emergency response in the case of an opioid overdose.
  • Campus policies and procedures for individual and impacted community support following a suspected overdose.
  • Campus policies and procedures for internal tracking of suspected and confirmed overdose incidents and trends to assist in informed strategic response.
  • A publicly available overview of campus overdose response strategy and resources.
  • Ongoing evaluation, tracking, and reporting of training, distribution, and intervention data with goals for the number of individuals trained and naloxone kits distributed each year.
  • Reciprocal data sharing with local public health and emergency response entities to track and communicate trends for response strategy purposes. Keep student’s confidentiality and FERPA regulations in mind when sharing data.

In addition, our organizations already offer many resources related to alcohol and other drug primary prevention, health promotion, opioid overdose response, and collegiate recovery to support beyond this checklist. Reach out to learn more here.

NASPA – Health, Safety, and Well-being Initiatives

NASPA is the leading association for student affairs professionals in higher education. In partnership with their members, NASPA is dedicated to fulfilling the promise of higher education through their guiding principles of Integrity, Innovation, Inclusion, and Inquiry. Centering students, NASPA serves the field through professional development, research, and advocacy for inclusive and equitable practices and communities. The Health, Safety, and Well-being Initiatives of NASPA support and develop student affairs professionals and students working towards cultivating well-being in our institutional communities through prevention, response, technical assistance, and training programs.

To learn more, please visit

Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery (HECAOD)

The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery (HECAOD) is the premier alcohol and drug misuse prevention and recovery resource for colleges and universities across the nation. It is the mission of HECAOD to empower those working to address collegiate alcohol and drug misuse and associated harms to implement evidence-informed strategies within the continuum of prevention through recovery.

To learn more, please visit

SAFE Project

SAFE Project is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to overcoming the addiction epidemic in the United States. Established in 2017 by Admiral James and Mary Winnefeld after the tragic loss of their 19-year-old son Jonathan due to an opioid overdose, SAFE Project aims to save lives impacted by substance use and mental health challenges through overdose prevention and response, education on stigma, and development of prevention and recovery programs. SAFE Project also provides tailored guidance and training within its four key initiatives: SAFE Campuses, SAFE Communities, SAFE Workplaces, and SAFE Veterans.

To learn more, please visit

  1. Ahmad FB, Cisewski JA, Rossen LM, Sutton P. Provisional drug overdose death counts. National Center for Health Statistics. 2024.
  2. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2011 through Spring 2022, Fall Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2022