Tulane has moral obligation to provide fentanyl-testing strips at health center

The Hullabaloo recently published an article on the risk fentanyl-laced drugs pose on Tulane’s campus. Here, I would like to elaborate on the extreme danger fentanyl poses both on this campus and in this country, along with the steps the Tulane administration should take in order to assure student safety.

In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses that’s over 40 percent of all overdoses between 1999 and 2014. The number of deaths caused by an overdose has grown exponentially over the past 20 years.

Since 2015, we have seen a 20,000 person increase in annual deaths by overdose. Specifically, the rate of synthetic opioid overdose deaths has jumped from less than 3,000 in 2013 to nearly 30,000 in 2017, increasing tenfold in a four-year span. Continuing at the current rate, more than 100,000 Americans will die from drug overdoses in 2020. That staggering projection conservatively assumes that the rate of overdoses remains constant. The epidemic of overdoses is complex and multifaceted, but the use of fentanyl in cutting drugs ranks among the most serious causes.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and 40 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Because it is synthetic, it is relatively easy and cheap to produce. Simultaneously, it’s incredibly deadly when consumed. In 2016, a test conducted across 10 states concluded that half of opioid overdose deaths involved drugs which were laced with fentanyl. These states were spread across the Northeast, Midwest, Atlantic Coast and Southwest, displaying that the problem affects the entire country.

Thankfully, we have weapons to use in our battle against fentanyl. The fentanyl testing strip, originally created for urine testing, is a powerful tool towards “harm reduction.” These strips, which are available to the public, can test for the presence of fentanyl in drugs. On Oct. 24, prior to the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, the Students for Sensible Drug Prevention will be handing these strips out.

The SSDP should be applauded for their efforts. Many students will use cocaine, molly and other illicit drugs which could likely be laced with fentanyl during the festival and over the course of the semester. As reports of overdose-related deaths rise on college campuses, including nearby Louisiana State University, it is perfectly clear that colleges must take measures to protect their students against the lethality of drugs. The Tulane administration ought to take a note from SSDP by providing fentanyl testing strips in the Student Health Center.

The health center would likely receive backlash from anti-drug organizations, but providing these strips would be a fantastic way for the university to protect the lives of students who choose to use illegal drugs. While the possibility of overdosing on drugs without fentanyl still exists, the risk is greatly reduced.

If drug use were easy to combat, measures like these might not be needed. But Tulane’s drug culture is real and could very easily take our students’ lives. Instead of wasting time on additional drug-use prevention programs, the university should focus on making its students as safe as possible.

Drugs are terrifying. For many of our readers, it could be unsettling to imagine your friend, your classmate or your child testing their drugs with the help of the Student Health Center. But drug use at Tulane is already a reality. Until we find a way to truly combat drug use, we ought to focus on providing protection to our students instead of passively watching our death toll rise.

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