Collaborative Columbia Project Yields Innovative Study on Opioid Overdose Prevention on College Campuses

Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch ‘90GS serves as senior author, with GS alumni Nicky Ganek ‘20GS and Dean Foskett ‘20GS among the co-authors of the joint study from Columbia GS, Columbia Health, and the Mailman School of Public Health.

June 07, 2023

After launching in 2019, a collaborative project between Columbia GS, Columbia Health, and the Mailman School of Public Health focused on naloxone training and opioid awareness in higher education has yielded its first published study. Titled, “Application of the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research to inform understanding of barriers and facilitators to the implementation of opioid and naloxone training on college campuses,” the study was published in the Implementation Science Communications journal. Key leaders included Dr. Rachel Shelton, Associate Professor and Deputy Chair of Sociomedical Sciences at Mailman, who served as first author, Dr. Michael McNeil and Dr. Melanie Bernitz of Columbia Health, and GS Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch ‘90GS who served as senior author. GS alumni Nicky Ganek ‘20GS and Dean Foskett ‘20GS were also among the study's co-authors. 

The project centers on the potential of college campuses as sites of high-level opioid awareness education and naloxone (a life-saving medicine which can reverse an opioid overdose) training implementation. The impressive infrastructure and community of engaged students present on college campuses provides a unique opportunity to efficiently and effectively educate the next generation of leaders on their role in confronting the ongoing national crisis that is the opioid epidemic. Columbia has led the way in this arena, with Columbia Health becoming a Registered Opioid Overdose Prevention Program recognized by the New York City and New York State departments of health in 2019, and hundreds of Columbia community members completing naloxone training. 

This recently published study, which utilizes data collected from 9 focus groups of campus stakeholders, examines potential barriers to college campuses fulfilling their full potential as hubs of public health education and training. It is the first study to provide in-depth insights on this topic, with access to and interest in naloxone training as the barometer. 

The study found three key issues impeding higher student participation in trainings. The first was the perception that opioids are less common than other problematically-used substances on campus, decreasing the urgency felt by members of the student body. Secondly, the fullness and occasional inflexibility of students’ schedules limited free time that could be given to public health engagement. Thirdly, the decentralization of campus communications posed complications for delivering public health information in a consistently accessible manner. Regarding potential solutions to these challenges, the study identified integration of naloxone training into normalized and socially-compulsory campus engagement activities and leveraging existing student leadership and campus infrastructure as important steps. 

As the opioid epidemic continues to worsen across the country, with young people being especially impacted, this study and the ongoing work of GS, Columbia Health, and Mailman represent much-needed innovation within this critical public health arena. The publication of this research provides tangible resources and hope for a more coordinated and proactive approach to combating the opioid epidemic among young adults, contributing to a healthier and safer future for Columbia, college communities, and the nation as a whole.

Learn more about naloxone training sessions offered by Columbia Health.