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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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TEMS, students push for drug harm reduction around Mardi Gras

Senior Sophi Tomasulo hands out free drug testing kits by the Lavin-Bernick Center. (Bryce Oufnac)

Tulane University’s reputation as a party school rings true on any given weekend, but it is especially true during Mardi Gras. However, with the escalating fentanyl crisis in the United States, drug use is riskier than ever this Mardi Gras. 

But thanks to Tulane Emergency Medical Services, Students4Strips and efforts from students, this year’s Mardi Gras is all about harm reduction.

The National Harm Reduction Coalition calls harm reduction “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.”

Anna Cay Vernon, co-president of Tulane Peer Health Educators, emphasized the importance of harm reduction on Tulane’s campus. 

“Abstinence doesn’t typically work, especially on college campuses like Tulane,” Vernon said. “If people are going to take the drug anyways, let’s save their lives and not focus on telling them not to do it.”

As of last March, naloxone — more commonly known as Narcan — is legal for over the counter purchase. Louisiana also recently decriminalized fentanyl test strips, removing them from the list of registered drug paraphernalia. 

“I know fentanyl does exist on this campus and in New Orleans it is very big right now,” Vernon said. “Especially this Mardi Gras, if people are going into the drug market in greater New Orleans, it’s going to be mostly fentanyl.”

TEMS began employing harm reduction strategies last year when Scott Klinefelter, logistics lieutenant and previous president of Tulane’s Interfraternity Council, noticed a lack of safety during the Mardi Gras season. 

“Coming from a fraternity background, [my goal is] making sure high risk organizations have it [narcan and test strips],” Klinefelter said.

TEMS and Students4Strips are taking it upon themselves to bring test strips and Narcan to Tulane’s campus. In the past week, the groups said they have distributed a combined 3,000 plus test strips and TEMS has distributed hundreds of doses of Narcan. 

“Even if not every person has a dose, I want there to be enough going around that someone could have an incident and someone could yell out ‘does anyone have narcan?’ And there would be enough people carrying it around that someone in the crowd could help,” Klinefelter said. 

Additionally, TEMS representatives have visited sororities, fraternities and other student groups to educate them about harm reduction methods and to demonstrate how to spot an overdose and employ Narcan. 

Drug safety hits close to home for junior Sarah Shultz, who has lost three friends to drug-related incidents. 

“If there had been Narcan out and about at all their schools, they might still be alive,” Shultz said.

Since the fall semester, Shultz has been working with Dean of Students Erica Woodley to expand access to test strips and Narcan on campus. 

“More and more people are becoming affected either directly or indirectly,” Shultz said. “Even if it’s just your friend who knows someone, it hurts to see your friends hurt.”

Eventually, the groups hope to see Narcan and test strips as commonplace on campus. 

“I don’t want this to just be a Mardi Gras and done thing,” Shultz said. “People don’t just stop doing drugs after Mardi Gras.”

Efforts to expand drug safety will extend beyond Mardi Gras, with the groups hoping to see an increased level of education and resources available. In the future, Shultz said they’d like for Narcan and test strips to be available in all dorm buildings, Pharmaboxes and sorority and fraternity houses.

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