Going Sober in Paradise: Gauchos for Recovery Reflect on Narcan and Fentanyl Strips Program

Photo by Vicente Villasenor

Lucian Blue Scher

Investigative Beat Reporter

As a student, it can be hard to stay sober when spending your weekend in Isla Vista. Drunk students flood the streets every weekend to dance, sing, and kiss each other. But sobriety can bring out the best in a person and Gauchos for Recovery (GFR) works to make the path to a sober lifestyle accessible and inclusive. How it works is really up to you, depending on how you want the program to help you. 

A notable resource GFR provides are overdose kits which include Narcan (naloxone) for immediate treatment of an opioid overdose and fentanyl test strips that will tell you if there is fentanyl (a synthetic opioid) in drugs. 

These kits can be obtained for free at Embarcadero Hall Room 1105 (935 Embarcadero Del Norte) during their pick-up hours. When showing up for a kit, a staff person will also provide free, quick layperson training on administering Narcan so that you can feel prepared to save a life. There is also an instructions manual included so you can be sure you act correctly if the crunch time comes. 

“This is one of the brightest and warmest communities I have ever been a part of,” said Hugh Cook, a recent UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) grad and former recovery peer intern. Now the current recovery program assistant manager, Cook works closely with participants of GFR and assists with programming.

“The overdose prevention shows how much recovery overlaps with communities you wouldn’t think of as associated with recovery. I’ve had awesome conversations with people going to Burning Man or festivals who value keeping their community safe and really just care about doing things with the best care and practices involved,” said Cook. 

He explained how the “flexibility, passion, and unique community” of GFR collaborate in this program to successfully help many people struggling with substance abuse or affected by substance abuse. And it is not just students. GFR is open to the campus and local community members and alumni, which allows for a “beautiful contrast” of life experience and an opportunity to connect with people you might not meet in your regular life.

Older community members look “to get sober learning from people decades younger than them. People [are] going through really raw and authentic transformations of self to the point where it’s a really positive influence on other people,” Cook said. “It’s a choose-your-own-adventure recovery.”

In addition to these resources, GFR offers meetings for traditional forms of sobriety paths, such as a 12-step program, as well as alternative social meetings with people on a similar journey and opportunities to talk with a trained expert. For many recovering, sometimes talking with someone who understands goes a long way. 

For those who are timid, Cook has some advice:

“Dive in and try a meeting or reach out, because it is terrifying, but it makes my day when there’s somebody new at a meeting or who comes into my office. While it might feel hopeless or out of your control, it does eventually feel like the clouds part and sunlight streams onto your face. This journey creates brand-new opportunities and opens new vistas. It’s really hard to imagine or feel it before it happens, but it is extremely powerful and it is available.” 

A list of available resources that can also be accessed with more information can be found on the GFR website. Other resources and updated pickup times can also be found on the GFR Instagram @gauchos_for_recovery.