Dan Pearson is dedicated to stopping deaths from opioid overdose.
His Justin V. Pearson Foundation Fund has helped provide naloxone, also known as Narcan, to St. Cloud State University and police and fire departments in St. Cloud and surrounding counties.
“Narcan can’t hurt anybody,” Pearson said. “There is no harmful effect whatsoever.”
Naloxone works by replacing opioids on the opioid receptors on the brain to allow for someone who is overdosing to breathe again. It has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system.
The reward is huge. The risk is none,” Pearson said. “It’s the only drug for a person who’s gone into a coma and on the verge of death.”
“By providing Narcan through law enforcement, we hope to give people a second chance at life and a second chance to reexamine their use,” Pearson said.
He also is a big supporter of getting Narcan on campus.
The goal is to get Narcan in all the AED units around campus and in every residence hall, said Thaddeus Rybka, Recovery Resource Center director.
Right now with the drugs out there it’s like Russian roulette, you don’t know what’s in your drugs,” Rybka said. “Lots of fentanyl, carfentanil, counterfeit prescription medications. They’re finding fentanyl in meth and marijuana. You can see it on the news — all these overdoses.”
Illegal drug maker are using fentanyl and other high-powered opioids because they are cheaper and they can cut them into the drugs they are producing to give the impression that it gives a good high. But if they mix it wrong — people can die, he said.
Pearson founded the Justin V. Pearson Foundation Fund after losing his son, Justin Pearson, at 24 to an overdose on Christmas Day in 2006.
Justin first encountered opioids through a prescription after a serious accident and later obtained pills online without a prescription.
“All you hope is, by any efforts, you can keep one family from facing what we did,” Pearson said.
Pearson’s first target was to make opioids harder to get by advocating for a law to stop the flow of pills online without a prescription.
Justin’s Bill, passed in 2008, required that medications sold online required a prescription. A later law he supported required that patients meet in person with the doctor prescribing the medication.
After stopping the flow of pills online, Pearson turned to removing access to pills already in people’s homes.
He supported St. Cloud’s first ever drug-take back event where the police collected seven 30 gallon barrels of medications in a few hours.
He also sponsored drug take back events at St. Cloud State and the JP Foundation Fund provided the prescription drop off box at the Medical Clinic and Pharmacy where students and employees can drop off medications at any time.
The drop box is an innovative way St. Cloud State has expanded its efforts to address the opioid epidemic, said Jen Johnson, interim director for Alcohol & Other Drug Prevention at St. Cloud State.
“Dan is a leader and a valued partner,” Johnson said. “He’s very generous and supportive of all of the initiatives.”
He’s also a big supporter of the Recovery Resource Center and Recovery Community for its support for people in recovery.
Addiction is still stigmatized. People in recovery struggle with having others to support them because they may have lost friends during their addiction and need to distance themselves from friends who are still using, Pearson said.
“Those people need advocates also,” he said. “They’re human beings like the rest of us.”
That’s why Pearson is a big supporter of the Recovery Resource Center and Recovery Community at St. Cloud State — it serves as a resource to connect people who are in recovery to new friends and sources of support.
“SCSU providing this environment is critical for people in recovery,” he said. “Here they can be in an environment to study and socialize, completely away from that challenge being presented because no one wants to talk to them, to be their friend.”
Community in recovery is crucial because it’s a new way of life. Recovery is more than just quitting drugs and drinking, it’s about living life on life’s terms. People in recovery need to learn how to deal with adversity and how to deal with stress. In the past they may have gone to substances for instant gratification, but now they need to learn to ask others for help, Rybka said.
“For us doing this in his name — his legacy lives on,” Pearson said of his son Justin. “He had a heart as big as the world. If we can keep someone else from facing the same crisis, then it is like his heart lives on.”
Stopping opioid deaths
Step 1: Make pills harder to get
Justin’s Bill, passed in 2008, required medications sold online required a prescription
Pearson supported drug take-back events in St. Cloud and on campus, including the Prescription Drug drop-off box in the Medical Clinic and Pharmacy
Step 2: Stop overdose deaths
The Justin V. Pearson Fund supports efforts to provide access to Narcan throughout Central Minnesota including on campus
Step 3: Support those in recovery
Pearson supports efforts to improve access to recovery throughout the community
He supports the Recovery Resource Center and Recovery Community at St. Cloud State as a way to help people in recovery get their lives back