Emergency Management team enhances access to life-saving drug


URBANA, Illinois – A life-saving drug is becoming publicly available for emergency use throughout campus through the work of the Division of Public Safety’s Emergency Management team.

Naloxone, sometimes referred to by its brand name Narcan, works quickly to reverse the effects of opioids for someone experiencing an overdose from drugs like heroin or fentanyl. The drug is already available in dozens of the boxes across campus that contain automatic external defibrillators (AEDs). Emergency Management is helping to get all campus AED boxes outfitted with naloxone.

Naloxone is being placed in the AED boxes as the pads on the AEDs themselves are replaced on their regular schedule. It is expected that every AED box on campus will have naloxone by the end of the 2023 calendar year.

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District provided the naloxone doses for this initiative.

“Narcan, or naloxone is the generic name, is a medication that blocks the receptors where opioids engage,” said Brian Brauer, Executive Director of Emergency Management at the Division of Public Safety. “What Narcan does is it gets between the drug molecule and the receptor so the drug can’t bind in the brain.”

The temporary reversal can be quite stunning, like when a University of Illinois Police officer helped to save a life in February 2023. That officer responded to a call just before midnight at McDonald’s, 616 E. Green St., Champaign, where it was reported that a man was unresponsive. Upon arrival, officers observed that the man was gasping for air and had a pale appearance with shades of blue on his lips and face.

An officer who was carrying naloxone – as all UIPD officers do – administered the nasal spray. Almost immediately, the individual started breathing more successfully and was soon stabilized on scene by emergency medical personnel.

A similar event occurred May 26 at an apartment complex in the 300 block of East John Street, Champaign. U. of I. Police were called by a property manager who found a woman sleeping in a shared lounge area.

The officers recognized the signs of an overdose – non-reactive pupils, snoring breaths, pale skin and lips and not responsive to stimulus. The officers administered Narcan after calling for emergency medical services. The woman was moving and speaking to officers about two minutes later.

While all U. of I. Police officers carry duty-issued naloxone, everyone on campus will soon have the ability to administer a life-saving dose, simply by accessing a public AED box.

You can use the PulsePoint AED app available in the App Store or Google Play to find the nearest AED location on campus.

Unless you see someone ingest a pill or inject a substance into their body, the only signs of an overdose may be unconsciousness, unresponsiveness, and slow or shallow breathing. If you see someone exhibiting these symptoms, you should call 911 and administer the naloxone found in the nearest AED box.

While there have not been any reported cases of overdoses on campus involving students, faculty or staff, the initiative is about being prepared to save a life if the situation arises.

“Having Narcan available on campus doesn’t mean that we have an opioid problem on campus,” Brauer said. “What it means is we’re being more prepared, so that if a member of the community comes to campus and is overdosing … we want to be able to help that person until the ambulance can arrive and transport them to definitive care.”

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students can also access naloxone through McKinley Health Center. Students can obtain one dose per semester to keep with them by picking it up at the McKinley Health Center pharmacy, on the lower level of the Illini Union, or the Student Dining and Residential Programs building.

It is recommended to keep naloxone on hand if you or someone you know uses opiates. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can call the 24/7 national helpline for treatment resources at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).