A Black Fraternity Aids Columbus Overdose Victims

The charitable wing of Kappa Alpha Psi distributes the overdose-reversal drug naloxone in Franklin County’s Black community.

Jack Shuler
Nathaniel Jordan II, left, and Kappa Foundation president Byron Potts

In 2002, Nathaniel Jordan II retired as an exec at AT&T. Now he’s back at work, though instead of managing global sales, he’s hoping to transform his community and save as many lives as possible. Jordan is the executive director of the Columbus Kappa Foundation—the charitable wing of the local alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically Black fraternity—which has launched an effort to focus the distribution of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone on the Black community in Franklin County. 

Kappa volunteers are working with churches and other community groups to get naloxone, often referred to by the brand name Narcan, into as many hands and homes as possible. They try to go to places where people might be using or selling. They set up tables on street corners. Knock on doors. Talk to anyone and everyone. They hustle, Jordan says, because the need is pressing. They have seen it. 

In January, Jordan was with some volunteers at the Mount Vernon Towers apartment complex passing out naloxone and training security guards in administering it. They’d just held a demonstration on how to use it properly when, “Lo and behold, somebody ODs while we’re there, and we were able to administer Narcan and bring the person back to life.” 

Drug fatalities have become more acute and disproportionately concentrated in the Black community. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the unintentional overdose death rate for Black non-Hispanics surpassed the rate for white non-Hispanics in 2019, and Black men had the state’s highest overdose death rate compared with other sex and racial/ethnic groups. The powerful opioid fentanyl (often combined with cocaine or methamphetamine) was involved in the majority of these deaths. 

Jordan says that many members of Kappa Alpha Psi know firsthand about this unfolding tragedy. He alone has lost seven cousins to overdose. But he’s not discouraged—he’s hopeful that things can change. 

Kappa’s setup at an event in May

Jordan began his public health work in 2014 through a Kappa-supported safe-sleep initiative for infants. Then, five years ago, Kappa launched a project called Opiate Community Connectors, a network of supporters who intervene and help find treatment for people with substance use disorder. In November 2019, they began giving out naloxone with the help of advocacy organization Harm Reduction Ohio, or HRO, a designated distributor of the Ohio Department of Health’s Project DAWN. 

“We had the infrastructure in place,” Jordan says. “This is just a different spoke in that hub. It was a pretty easy transition.” 

Kappa, with HRO’s help, has also become a distributor with Project DAWN, which stands for Deaths Avoided With Naloxone. Given the institutional support and access to more naloxone, Jordan’s goal is to distribute 10,000 kits in Franklin County this year and begin dispensing them statewide through the fraternity’s network. 

Dennis Cauchon, president of HRO, says Ohio should pay attention to Kappa’s efforts—they’re reaching one of the hardest-hit communities. In May, he and Jordan criticized the state’s new naloxone distribution initiative, which ignored some predominantly Black ZIP codes, including Jordan’s in the Near East Side. 

Kappa’s help is needed during the pandemic more than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that overdose deaths hit 88,000 nationwide between August 2019 and August 2020, an increase of almost 27 percent. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fatal overdoses were up more than 50 percent for Black people, while they decreased among white people. 

Negative outcomes related to the social determinants of health—such as inadequate housing, unemployment, discrimination and lagging health care access—have been exacerbated in many Black communities. Compounding the situation is the stigma society attaches to people who use drugs, making them feel like they are not worthy of help. 

Rather than making people feel ashamed, Jordan says, he starts from a place of 

love. “Our approach is, hey, come on, we love you. We love you where you are right now.” You have to meet people where they’re at, he explains, and treat them like human beings. 

Kappa is doing just that, an approach that could save a life—hopefully many of them. Jordan has a personal understanding of what it’s like to be given another chance. Three years ago, he had two strokes and considers himself lucky to be alive. “I face my world,” he says, “knowing that I’m here for a purpose.”