Fentanyl Awareness: keeping yourself safe


Valentina Herazo-Alvarez

There are such large numbers of fentanyl circling around the U.S. at an alarming rate and it only takes a small amount to cause harm.

Across the nation, colleges and hospitals are feeling the effects of the opioid crisis, with fentanyl at the forefront of the crisis.
Jolene Brenner, an intensive care unit case manager in New Orleans, Louisiana, has worked with several opioid overdose patients, including those involving fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is an opioid medication which binds in more powerful ways to the brain’s receptors and gets to the brain more quickly than other types of pain medicines to give the user a euphoric feeling,” Brenner said.
Often, Brenner sees overdose patients who were exposed to fentanyl against their own will.
“Since fentanyl is so cheap and readily available, dealers mix powerful opioids into other drugs such as cocaine and heroin because it is cheaper than other drugs,” Brenner said. “Many times users do not know they are getting fentanyl.”
Kailyn Frederick, a senior psychology major with a concentration in substance abuse at Northwestern State University of Louisiana, expresses their feelings about the rise of fentanyl overdoses.

“Dealers care about money, so they need more product. To get more product, you can bulk it up with other substances,” Frederick said.

Charles King, the addiction studies program coordinator at NSU, explains why fentanyl is cheaper in comparison to other illegal opioids.
“Most opioids are made from the opium poppy plant, but fentanyl is produced synthetically by lab scientists using the same chemical structure,” King said. “This also means that it can be produced quickly because it is not dependent on agricultural and harvest conditions.”
Due to fentanyl’s easy accessibility, it currently has a 90% death rate among all deaths involving opioids and usage is continuing to rise.
Drugs on their own are already dangerous, when mixed with other drugs, such as fentanyl, they are fatal.

“One substance is telling your breathing, brain, and heart to speed up while the other is telling them to slow down. That then leads to your body not being able to accurately control your body temperature and your organs start to fail. That, of course, leads to death,” Frederick said.
King believes the U.S. was in this fentanyl epidemic even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Fentanyl use has surged in the past three years. Research shows that more adults between 18 and 45 died of a fentanyl overdose in 2020 than COVID-19, motor vehicle accidents, cancer, and suicide,” King said.
There are such large numbers of fentanyl circling around the U.S. at an alarming rate and it only takes a small amount to cause harm.

“Medicine potency is typically compared to morphine’s pain-killing properties. For instance, 1 mg of morphine is the equivalent of 360 mg of Tylenol. Fentanyl is 80 times more potent than morphine and is so potent that typically it is only prescribed as a patch on the skin instead of IV or as a pill,” Brenner said.

Its power is immense in small doses.
“Ingesting just two milligrams of fentanyl can kill an adult,” King said.
It is important that college students, and people everywhere, are aware of these frightening rates in order to protect themselves and stay safe.
As this epidemic continues, a new technology known as fentanyl strips has brought a way to decrease the risk of fentanyl exposure.
“Fentanyl strips are a form of drug testing technology to provide people at risk of fentanyl exposure with information to decrease risk of overdose. These strips are used in the community to see if the drug you purchased has fentanyl present,” Brenner said.

Frederick advises the use of fentanyl strips for students to stay safe.

“They are cheap and easy to use for anyone to purchase online. They are little strips to see if anything was laced with fentanyl,” Frederick said. “You must stay vigilant in doing research and keeping up to date on your health. Do not be afraid to go get help in fear of getting in trouble. We rather you alive than anything.”

Though this new technology has been helpful in the fentanyl epidemic, overdose cases still continue. When an overdose does occur, an antidote called Naloxone is typically used. However, there are no guarantees of preventing an overdose.

“Naloxone, or Narcan, is an antidote for opioid overdoses, typically several doses of Narcan are needed for Fentanyl overdoses,” Brenner said. “Carrying Naloxone is not a remedy to allow use of Fentanyl – typically overdose death happens so fast that Narcan is not always effective, and one Narcan “Narc Pen” is not enough to counteract the potency of a Fentanyl overdose.”

Sarah Ebarb, Addiction Studies Program Grant coordinator at NSU, advises that abstinence is the best protective measure in this epidemic but obtaining Narcan is a good practice as well.

“I would advise that, of course, abstinence from substance use is always the best preventative measure, but if you are a user of substances, be careful in the decision to use. Also speak to your pharmacist about obtaining Narcan, if not for you, it could save the life of a peer in the future,” Ebarb said.

Abstinence from fentanyl is the best route during the epidemic, however, that is not always possible.

“I am not going to be naive and say ‘don’t do illicit substances.’ It is just like sex, I am not going to say ‘just stay abstinent’ and wash my hands of it like I just got rid of all STDs,” said Frederick. “People are going to do it even if I warn them against it and show all this evidence on how terrible addiction is, so why not give them information to keep them safe.”

The most important thing to keep in mind during this crisis is personal safety overall.
“I am a strong advocate for keeping students safe and healthy. Since college students appear to be the target or the most vulnerable in the current fentanyl drug war. I believe having a conversation with students about drug awareness is paramount,” King said.
Bringing awareness to the issue and making information available to the public is essential to save lives.
“I think college students should be aware of the risks and consequences of all substance use and abuse. News outlets and outreach on campus make it easy to get any information that you may want to know or need concerning substance abuse,” Ebarb said.

Information from Jolene Brenner:

In order to use fentanyl test strips:

1. Dissolve a small amount of drug supply in water, and then dip the test strip into the liquid for 15 seconds. Because the test strips are highly sensitive, a minimal amount of drug residue is sufficient to obtain a result.
2. Set the test strip on a flat surface until results appear, typically within 5 minutes.
3. One line indicates fentanyl is present in the sample; two lines indicate a negative result.
Street Names for Fentanyl: Crazy One, Dance Fever, Dragon’s Breath, Fire, Friend, Goodfella, Great Bear, He-Man, Heineken, Jackpot, Murder 8, Nal, Nil, Tango & Cash, TNT, F, Fent, Fenty, Freddy, Fuf, Opes, China Girl, China Town, China White, Chinese Buffet, Pharmacy, Lollipop (Fentanyl added to a cough drop), Blue Diamond, Blue Dolphin, Blues, Gray Stuff, King Ivory, Snowflake, White Girl/White Ladies, Apache, Blonde, Shoes

Students with questions about drug use or abuse can contact Charles King of the Department of Psychology and Addiction Studies. They have reading material as well as resources for additional outreach. Any student can reach out to the Addiction Studies department, Room 311 Bienvenue Hall, The CCC in the Friedman Student Union, or the campus police with any questions or concerns about the topic.