Overdoses are increasingly haunting our communities. In 2021, the National Security Council reported that 98,268 people died from preventable drug overdoses, marking a 781 percent increase since 1999. The city we call home for four years is no different: just last year, 16 overdoses occurred during a two-week period in New Haven County. In 2018, 30 people overdosed on the New Haven Green, right next to Old Campus. 

Yet it doesn’t need to — nor should it — be this way. As drug use is becoming destigmatized and understood as not a criminal issue but rather a health and socioeconomic issue, Yale can and must do more to prioritize public health and prepare community members to respond. 

We write this piece to outline recommendations that we have kickstarted, in partnership with and inspired by Yalies who have been fighting for better drug policy and resource access on campus. Last year, after conversations with off-campus student groups that work on drug safety across Yale and New Haven, we proposed and passed a $2,500 funding bill in the Yale College Council, or YCC, Senate to purchase 25 boxes of Narcan from local pharmacies. These boxes were then provided to Students for Sustainable Drug Policy, or SSDP, at Yale to more adequately institute methods to train its students and staff with resources to reduce fatalities. 

Our project ran into many roadblocks. Then, Yale was not necessarily ready to accept the institutional burden, nor was it easy to purchase Narcan. Only one pharmacy — the Walgreens Pharmacy inside a Yale New Haven Hospital building — was licensed to prescribe one Narcan prescription per day, per patient. 

We weren’t deterred. Instead, we grabbed groups of friends to have multiple Narcan containers prescribed to us each day until we ran out of funds. The pharmacist was supportive of our efforts but was legally restricted in the amount of Narcan they could provide daily. We then gave the 25 boxes of Narcan, with two nasally-administered overdose-reversing treatments, to SSDP to distribute to students, off-campus groups and community spaces. 

Since spring 2023, the landscape of Narcan has drastically changed. In March, the Food and Drug Administration announced that Narcan would be available for purchase over-the-counter starting July 2023. In December, the Biden-Harris administration called on schools and institutions to have Narcan stocked and readily available. While we work closely with SSDP and Yale Emergency Medical Services, or YEMS, to ensure Narcan is available on Yale’s campus, it is time for Yale to shed itself of its War on Drugs mentality from 1990 and step instead into 2024: students, staff and faculty need and deserve training on administering Narcan — on campus, off-campus and beyond. 

Student initiatives and funding efforts can only function for so long. YCC’s budget is not large enough to train and supply every student with Narcan, and SSDP and YEMS are not expansive enough to train and educate everyone on the issue. 

The time for broad action and preparation is now. We must become proactive in preventing overdose, not reactive. Yale cannot wait for something to happen and realize it must meet the moment. By then, it’ll already be far too late.

We call upon Yale to take up the burden of safe drug education, overdose prevention and harm mitigation. It’s time to live in 2024 and ensure that every member of the Yale community has the means to protect strangers and loved ones from preventable death. Yale’s hierarchy must shift. We must strive to radically shift University policy to prioritize students and New Haven residents’ well-being over the protection of Yale’s image. 

JULIAN SUH-TOMA is a junior in Benjamin Franklin College and is president of the Yale College Council. Contact Julian at julian.suh-toma@yale.edu

VIKTOR KAGAN is a senior in Pierson College and chief of staff for the Yale College Council. Contact Viktor at viktor.shamis-kagan@yale.edu.