Drug and alcohol abuse have always been prominent issues on college campuses across the nation, but the recent fentanyl epidemic has proven to be one of the most deadly drug problems to hit the University of Mississippi. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid approved to treat severe pain, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, meaning, if misused, it causes severe harm in very small doses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2019, and this number has only grown since the start of the pandemic. The university has started using campus resources to educate students on fentanyl, symptoms of overdose and what to do in an overdose situation, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The biggest issue with this new fentanyl epidemic: It is being mixed into other drugs, like heroin or methamphetamine, without the buyer’s knowledge. In the past year, the Drug Enforcement Administration has seized over nine million illicit pills containing fentanyl, with four out of ten containing lethal doses. The director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, col. Steven Maxwell, claims that because of Mississippi’s location, it is especially vulnerable to mass importation of illegal drugs. In 2021 alone, 48 out of 67 drug-related deaths in Mississippi were caused by fentanyl overdoses.
Fortunately, UM has been dedicating resources to fight this issue and, hopefully, prevent deaths from drug overdoses in the Oxford community. The William Magee Center, a special program at the university dedicated to educating students on alcohol, drugs and wellness, has grown significantly in the past years. The center provides useful information on their website and offers special programs such as RebelADE, WellChats and the Collegiate Recovery Community to help students struggling with wellness issues and direct them to tools to start a path to sobriety.
The biggest step the William Magee Center has taken regarding fentanyl overdoses has been equipping Greek life and student housing with narcan, a nasal spray that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. Leaders in these spaces have received training on how to respond to an overdose situation, which can hopefully limit the fatal effects of fentanyl. Campus fraternities and sororities additionally held meetings going over where to find narcan in the house and how to identify overdose symptoms. While these tools are fantastic steps toward saving lives, there is still much more to be done when it comes to limiting opioid use on campus.
Ensuring people are prepared to deal with an overdose is definitely helpful in saving lifes, but preventing students from using drugs that are laced with fentanyl is the ultimate goal. More education on campus about fentanyl and what drugs it is being laced into could prepare students better to make good decisions, and having fentanyl test strips, which can accurately detect fentanyl levels in drugs, readily available to community members and students would allow people to test drugs before using.
Preventing the use of all illegal drugs is obviously the goal for the university, but having testing strips could prevent student and community deaths in the meantime. Fentanyl is only becoming a larger and larger problem, and while the actions taken by the university to protect students is certainly greater than many other universities, this education and resource provision still have plenty of room for growth in the Oxford community.
Briley Rakow is a sophomore majoring in integrated marketing communications from Lemont, Illinois.