Students for Opioid Solutions (SOS), a startup nonprofit co-founded by Trinity senior Jonah Wendt, aims to eliminate opioid overdoses on college campuses nationwide. As executive director of SOS, Wendt will encourage universities to enact proactive policies intended to reduce rates of student overdoses on opioid painkillers
Wendt, best known for his leadership positions in the conservative student group Tigers for Liberty, co-founded the organization after meeting Gerald Fraas, a junior at the University of Alabama, through the College Republican National Committee.
“SOS started on Sept. 11, 2017, when one of my friends that I met while interning at Capitol Hill gave me a call and pitched me this idea for an organization dedicated to changing opioid policies on college campuses,” Wendt said. “The past year, once of his friends had actually died at the University of Alabama of an opioid overdose, so this was his way of trying to make a difference and save lives.”
Opioids, a class of poppy-derived synthetic drugs that includes heroin as well as more common medications like Vicodin and OxyContin, are prescribed as powerful painkillers. They are sometimes misused for the euphoric effects they stimulate; the National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that they are highly addictive because our brains build a tolerance to their effects, which makes overdosing all the more likely for those who use the medications recreationally.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 15,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses alone in 2015. In an August phone interview with the Rivard Report, San Antonio mayor and Trinity alumnus Ron Nirenberg called opioids the city’s top municipal concern.
“We decided to start a grassroots student movement focused on changing opioid policies on college campuses, starting with passing SGA [Student Government Association] legislation to force administrations to change their policies,” Wendt said.
Larry Cox, community awareness resource officer for TUPD, told the Trinitonian that opioid misuse is not currently a problem at Trinity. Wendt explained that the SOS recommendations are preventative in nature.
In a press release sent to the Trinitonian, SOS detailed five ways that student government representatives can respond to the opioid drug crisis. The organization urges school administrators to train residential life and campus police officers in the recognition of opioid overdosage and in the administration of Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, an emergency treatment for reversing the effects of opioid overdoses.
“Narcan is the antidote to opioid overdose, and reverses the effects,” Wendt said. “And if you are not experiencing an opioid overdose, there is no effect.”
The group also asks that schools report the number of opioid overdoses and deaths in annual drug and alcohol reports, guarantee amnesty for students who report overdoses and institute ‘good Samaritan’ policies that protect students who attempt to aid someone suffering from an opioid overdose.
As of Oct. 4, SOS has established contact points in the student representative bodies of 23 campuses in 15 states. Among those contacts is his own twin brother, Manfred Wendt, a senator in Trinity’s own Student Government Association.
Among those contacts is his own twin brother, Manfred Wendt, a senator in SGA. Manfred has submitted a resolution detailing these policy recommendations to the SGA senate and intends to discuss them at Monday’s meeting.
SOS has registered as a non-profit corporation in Alabama and is filing to become an IRS-recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. In the meantime, Wendt has enlisted junior and economics major Luke Ayers, president of Tigers for Liberty and Tigers for Life and vice-president of the Catholic Student Group, as the legislative director for SOS.
“Once we establish those contacts with student government representatives, once the resolution is actually passed, [I make] sure we’re following up to make sure the policies are actually changed by the school, and that we don’t have a statement of support of these policies and then nothing happens,” Ayers said.
In Ayers’ view, the opioid crisis needs to be addressed in both societal attitudes toward addiction and drug use, as well as in administrative policies.
“I think changing the discussion and changing the cultural attitude towards that approach, for other substances and not just alcohol, is really important,” Ayers said. “At the very least, we need to make sure that people aren”™t losing their lives to these addictions. If they want help, they”™re able to seek it.”
Ayers recognizes that opioid misuse hasn’t presented itself as a problem at Trinity, but still hopes to institute proactive policies to curb any chance of the crisis affecting campus.
“As far as I know there hasn’t been any deaths on Trinity’s campus on opioid overdoses,” Ayers said. “But just because there hasn’t been any now, doesn’t mean it’s not a big issue in other places. I think that the more we can be aware that this is happening, and aware of solutions to it, the better off we’ll all be.”
A growing advocacy group, SOS is seeking interns to aid its efforts in a variety of ways. For more information about the organization, visit opioidsolutions.org or email Jonah Wendt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SGA senator Manfred Wendt will present legislation to the public SGA meeting on Monday, Oct. 9, at 6 p.m. in the Waxahachie Room of Coates University Center.