If you're at a Red Line station waiting for the train, you may notice something new: boxes of the opioid overdose-reversal drug Narcan.
The idea came from a group of Harvard students, who collaborated with state government on a program to provide the life-saving drug at every MBTA Red Line station. The latest state budget set aside $95,000 for the effort.
One of the students involved, Sanjeev Kohli, was compelled to embark on this project after witnessing a 19-year-old overdose at a homeless shelter where he volunteered. Because the shelter had Narcan, the person survived.
“I think this experience, to me in particular, really emphasized the power of the small, inexpensive, easy-to-use spray that can really mean the difference between life and death in these kinds of situations,” said Kohli.
He was motivated to ensure more people had access to the life-saving drug.
Kohli joined the group Harvard College Overdose Prevention and Education Students. In doing research, he learned about an overdose hotspot close to campus: Red Line stations in Cambridge. The students saw this as a call to action.
The organization collaborated with the MBTA, the Massachusetts Department of Health, the Biostatistics and Clinical Epidemiology Service and Sen. John Keenan to launch a pilot program that would equip Red Line stations with Narcan.
“I think for this project in particular, we've been incredibly lucky, and I think very grateful to have so many different institutions and all these different facets of health and policy, harm reduction and medicine, come together and really work towards implementing this,” Kohli said.
But the Red Line program was not the students' first attempt to increase access to naloxone.
Swathi Srinivasa, one of the founding members of the student group, said they initially pushed for the drug on the Harvard campus so students, faculty and staff could have access to it as needed.
“But that process was really, really strenuous,” she said. “The university said no to us several times.”
Srinivasan said pushback from the university only made them work harder.
“Our response wasn't to stop pushing for Narcan. We just had to shift our approach and think about, ‘OK, we have to think bigger now.’” she said. “We have to think about other places, people that we can talk to, people we can ask because we're not going to stand here and take no for an answer.”