Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

The opioid crisis threatens college safety

Rose Park

Since 2006, an upward trend in overdose deaths has threatened Austinites’ public safety. In 2022, the Travis County Commissioners Court declared overdose a public health crisis after a 237% increase in fentanyl-related deaths. 

Because 37% of college students regularly abuse alcohol or consume illegal substances, they are particularly affected by this trend and put at an increased risk of addiction. 

To promote public safety across campus, students must remain informed about the signs of addiction and learn how to support struggling peers.

Overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in Travis County. A contributing factor is the presence of fentanyl in substances marketed as “pure.”

“The problem is fentanyl has been found in practically every form of pill or powder that’s being marketed on the street right now,” said Matthew Masters, a member at Austin Addiction Medicine.

Although some may argue that opioid use is not a problem at UT, 70% of all pills seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration contain fatal amounts of fentanyl. Students are especially susceptible to Adderall and Xanax misuse, as these drugs claim to help manage heavy workloads and stress levels.

“When it comes to scoring drugs on the street, those drugs and liquids (look) exactly like what you see in the PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference) … you don’t know whether that’s pharmaceutical,” Masters said.

Naloxone, commonly referred to as Narcan, is a medication designed to mitigate the effects of opioid overdoses and gives individuals more time to call for help in a medical emergency. Narcan is available at all hours from the University’s residence hall desks and at certain times from the PCL. 

Masters explained the symptoms often associated with an opioid overdose. Narcan should be administered as soon as these symptoms begin. 

“The patient’s going to have altered mental status,” Masters said. “It’s going to be difficult or impossible to arouse them. Their breathing is going to be depressed, and when you look at their (eyes), they will have pinpoint pupils and that’s very characteristic of overdose. When they quit breathing, or they start coughing at the mouth, then it’s a true emergency.” 

Upon administering the drug, students may also need to provide rescue breathing.

There are other options students can use to prevent an overdose. Students should be mindful of the risks associated with buying street drugs and use a fentanyl test strip to avoid ingesting the substances without proper precautions. 

Social work junior Marielle Alonzo believes the terminology around substance misuse also contributes to a stigma among students. 

“I feel like it’s harder (for students) to reach out to someone or kind of admit to oneself or to others they’re going through this,” Alonzo said.

Regardless of whether those around you have expressed their struggles with substance misuse, we must create an environment that promotes awareness of addiction’s consequences. Addiction is not an individual failure but instead is a disease that requires the efforts of a community. 

“The other thing is that in dealing with (addiction) … it’s the four C’s: You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it, you can’t control it, you don’t have to contribute to it,” Masters said. 

If you see a friend struggling, connect them with support resources and do your part to promote safe drug habits on campus. Addiction is not going anywhere, so take measures to protect yourself and your peers in case of an emergency. 

Wood is a social work junior from Austin, Texas.

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