Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported cocaine containing fentanyl circulating in the Los Angeles area. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, this potent drug can be fatal at doses as low as two milligrams, compared to 200 milligrams for heroin. Drug dealers intentionally contaminate fentanyl with other drugs because of its low cost and potency, resulting in traces of fentanyl in other substances such as MDMA, or ecstasy and cocaine.
As a result, unpretentious drug users – who are usually not addicts themselves – risk accidentally ingesting a lethal dose of fentanyl. In order to reduce this risk, student-run nonprofits, such as Trojan Awareness Combating Overdose, urge students to test fentanyl drugs before consuming them.
TACO provides free fentanyl test strips and Narcan to reduce the risk of fentanyl overdose. Plus, they’ve partnered up with Duffl Inc., a student-run convenience store delivery service, to deliver tests to students in under 10 minutes at $ 0.01 a strip, plus a delivery fee.
The tests are easy to use. Users dip a test strip into a product the size of a strawberry seed and a mixture of water. Results arrive between 90 seconds and five minutes later. With such a simple way to prevent death, there is no reason the University could not do more to ensure that no student overdoses on fentanyl.
While these grassroots efforts are a good thing, not all students are aware of it. Fellowship members lead Duffl, and TACO focuses its efforts on Frat Row. Specifically, the members set up their booth in The Row every Friday afternoon where they distribute test strips and TACO was invited to give each house in the Row a presentation on harm reduction. However, drug addiction is a problem that extends beyond Greek life.
Alexis Areias, chairman of the undergraduate government, reached out to TACO to potentially include fentanyl test strips in USC’s “on-the-go wellness vending machine” in King Hall. The vending machine provides contraceptives, but the cheap fentanyl test strips are only available through TACO and Duffl, and one can cost $ 1.96 with shipping. It is a problem.
While incredible to its academics, USC is a notorious party school where drug addiction occurs. By ignoring this fact, the University is harming its students. Abstinence is not a viable solution to the overdose problem, just as abstinence-only sex education is not an effective solution for teenage pregnancies. It is not reasonable for a university to simply tell students to stop using drugs because students will continue to use drugs regardless, as we have seen with the failure of the DARE campaign.
Currently, USC operates the Naloxone SC program, which provides an opioid overdose reversal training video with free fentanyl test strips and Narcan brand nasal spray to students who complete the training. While this program is a worthy University effort, it is simply not enough. Students should not have to undergo training to receive free strips as this only contributes to its inaccessibility. There must be a widespread effort to distribute them to everyone.
Not to mention the fact that the University has expressed concern about other public health crises. With mandatory coronavirus testing procedures, free condoms in student accommodation, and a full panel of sexually transmitted infection testing at Engemann Student Health, there is no reason USC should not do the same with the opioid epidemic. Drug overdoses among students have always been a problem – why has the University taken so long to tackle it?
Providing free fentanyl test strips is one way the University promotes harm reduction. USC does not require students to take sex education training before using condoms. They were able to standardize fentanyl testing the same way they standardized condoms with âTrojans Wear Condomsâ buckets.
There are still many barriers to safe drug use in the United States, as the stigma surrounding drugs continues to inhibit harm reduction education. Overdoses are one of the leading causes of death in the country, with opioids responsible for over 70% of all drug-related deaths. USC must go beyond simply distributing fentanyl test strips to prevent more deaths.