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    UMass Dartmouth launches campaign to deter heroin use

    A look at the UMass Dartmouth campus.
    Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
    A look at the UMass Dartmouth campus.

    After two apparent heroin overdoses — one fatal — within two days at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, administrators are launching a campaign to educate the campus about the dangers of the drug.

    A 20-year-old political science major died of an apparently accidental overdose Jan. 29, according to letters from student affairs officials and the school’s director of public safety that were sent to the school community Thursday.

    “[The student’s] father has expressed to us his hope that something good can come from this tragedy, and we must commit ourselves to that goal,” read one of the letters.

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    The father declined through a university spokesman to be interviewed and requested that his son’s name not be printed.

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    His mother could not be reached Saturday.

    Two days after the death, according to school officials, another student suffered an apparent overdose, but survived after a friend called police and they gave him a drug to reverse the effects. UMass Dartmouth police and emergency medical personnel gave the young man a dose of Narcan, which increasingly is being carried by emergency responders.

    “This is not new. This is an epidemic that’s been traveling the country and hitting people of all ages and all backgrounds, and it’s been getting worse over the last couple years,” said Dr. David Milstone, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, one of the coordinators of the campaign.

    The university already does a lot of substance abuse outreach, Milstone said, beginning when students arrive for orientation.

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    But the Jan. 29 death struck close to home.

    “When it’s somebody they know or knew or is close to them, all the sudden, they listen differently,” said Milstone, who oversees all out-of-classroom student development activities, including health and counseling.

    Milstone said the number one drug of choice on campus, according to annual surveys, is alcohol, followed by marijuana and prescription drugs. In the 30 days preceding the survey, he said, 11 percent of students reported taking some other type of drug.

    A spokesman said the university, which has about 9,000 students, has seen only one possible nonfatal overdose in the past two years before the death and the incident with the other student.

    With the two apparent overdoses occurring so close together, Milstone said, students, faculty, and school officials agreed they had to reach out to the community.

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    “We weren’t hiding anything,” he said. “This happens in our home, as well, it’s not just over there. We want them to understand all the resources available.”

    The university flag has been flying at half-mast in memory of the student who died and the Campanile, a bell tower at the center of campus, has been illuminated in purple, in recognition of the Project Purple Initiative, a nonprofit that helps individuals and families struggling with addiction and seeks to break the stigma surrounding addiction.

    The school will hold group discussions in residence halls for students, and an all-campus gathering will be held Tuesday at noon in the library.

    Another letter will be sent to parents about the apparent overdoses and the resources available for students.

    Student leaders will meet to brainstorm ideas for additional responses, and faculty will be provided with information to use for class discussions.

    School officials also plan to redouble efforts to educate students about the university’s medical amnesty policy, which allows students to get help for themselves or others without fear of legal or disciplinary repercussions.

    A public showing of the documentary “Heroin: Cape Cod USA,” which explores addiction through interviews with sufferers and their parents, will also be held.

    “The scourge that’s affecting the nation and wreaking havoc here in Massachusetts has landed on our doorstep and is haunting our campus,” wrote Cynthia E. Cummings, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, in one of the letters. “Are we prepared to handle this? Are we up for the fight it will take to eliminate it?”

    Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @EvanMAllen.