North Texas Daily

Campus resources available as fentanyl overdoses become leading cause of death for college age group

Campus resources available as fentanyl overdoses become leading cause of death for college age group

Campus resources available as fentanyl overdoses become leading cause of death for college age group
January 28
10:30 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced fentanyl overdoses are the leading cause of death for people ages 18 to 45.

“What we know is with this age group injuries, just in general, are a leading cause of death,” said Sonia Redwine, director of the University of North Texas’ Recovery and Intervention and Support and Education Center. “We definitely see accidental injuries and overdoses counted as part of that and definitely see that increase.”

Fentanyl is a prescription drug commonly used as pain relief for individuals with chronic pain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Synthetic fentanyl, according to NIDA, is the type found in most overdoses as it is not prescribed and instead manufactured in a lab, creating a very strong drug similar to morphine.

The CDC’s data on fentanyl suggests an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many factors go into drug usage, Redwine believes mental health is a main contributor.

“We know that there’s a high correlation between mental health and substance use,” Redwine said.

The COVID-19 pandemic isolated many individuals in their homes and away from possible support. That isolation could contribute to higher cases of drug use and overdoses, Redwine said.

“We’ve noticed with the data, specifically during the pandemic in 2020-2021, that we’ve seen that even more [overdoses],” Redwine said. “We suspect isolation is a big contributor to why we see an increase in that.”

Even as people try to seek medical assistance, Redwine worries not everyone will get the help they need.

“For every one provider, they have to see over 1,000 to 1,200 patients,” Redwine said. “That’s the ratio – one provider for every 1,200 people in Denton County. That’s just not sustainable.”

UNT’s RISE Program, which is a combination of the Substance Use Resource and Education Program and Collegiate Recovery Program, hopes to give students the help they need on campus by either getting them outside help or including them in on-campus programs such as CRP.

“Hopefully we’re doing enough as far as connecting students to resources, letting them know about the risk and where to get to get help,” Redwine said.

In 2019, UNT pharmacy made Naloxone, also known as Narcan, a temporary emergency overdose treatment, available for both insured and uninsured students to purchase.

Some individuals, like UNT College Democrats Secretary and Student Government Association Senator Peyton McFarlaine, took action into their own hands to make Narcan more readily available for students. McFarlaine spent the afternoon of Jan. 24 at a folding table for the College Democrats with free packages of Narcan to hand out.

“We feel that drugs should be decriminalized because that’s what really helps people,” McFarlaine said. “To make sure that there’s no harm being done to them, to have safe injection sites, to have Narcan available and to have less stigma around drug usage.”

Destigmatizing drugs, McFarlaine said, includes changing how people talk about all drugs and the people who choose to use them.

“They have a lot of posters in the dorms that say, ‘weed is still illegal in Texas,’” McFarlaine said. “I think instead of that, they should have more harm reduction posters like, ‘this is how you administer Narcan, this is what to do if your friend is overdosing, this is how to check your drugs if you’re using.’”

Marijuana and alcohol misuses are two of the most common issues Redwine sees students come to RISE for, saying the data for drug use on most college campuses is “skewed a little bit” toward the two aforementioned substances.

“[Marijuana and alcohol] are the top two things that students come to talk to us about,” Redwine said. “But that’s not to say that there aren’t other students who come in with what we call ‘poly-substance,’ and using multiple substances.”

Taking multiple substances, like fentanyl, is what can increase an individual’s chance of accidentally overdosing. Like Redwine, Jasmine Butler, Kerr Hall resident assistant and public health sophomore, sees overlooked mental health issues as a factor behind rising overdose deaths.

“I think that if we’re more inclusive and if we talk more about mental health, then fentanyl usage will decrease,” Butler said.

Butler could not tell the North Texas Daily what steps on-campus residence halls like Kerr have in place in the event of a student overdosing but did confirm there is protocol in place.

“Because of my job, we can’t disclose anything,” Butler said. “But we have a plan.”

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Alex Reece

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