What is an opioid? 

Opioids are a class of drugs traditionally used for pain relief.  They work by binding to opioid receptors in your brain cells. This process blocks transmission of pain and can boost feelings of pleasure. In addition to pain relief, opioids can cause sedation, constipation, addiction, and in the case of overdose or poisoning, respiratory depression, and death.  


There are many types of opioids and they differ in important ways including how strong the drug is, how quickly it takes effect, and how long it lasts. Some examples of opioids include heroin, morphine, codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), and fentanyl. 


What do students need to know about fentanyl and other opioids?

Any opioid, even those prescribed by a healthcare provider can cause overdose and death. In recent years, the prevalence of fentanyl in the illicit drug supply has increased.  Prescription fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was developed for pain relief in the hospital and palliative settings. Most fentanyl outside of these settings is illegally manufactured. It is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine. In short, fentanyl is very potent in very small amounts and is the most common drug involved in opioid overdose and poisoning deaths. 


Students should be aware that any illicit drug can contain fentanyl.  

Fentanyl is found in illicit substances (pills, powder, liquid) that might be sold as hydrocodone, oxy, Xanax, Klonopin, Molly (MDMA), Adderall, Ecstasy, Ketamine, acid, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. As a result, many people might not know they’re ingesting fentanyl which can cause accidental poisoning (overdose) and death. 


How can students reduce their risk if they choose to use illicit drugs? 

  1. Never use drugs alone
  2. Always carry naloxone
  3. Use harm reduction strategies 

If you use illicit drugs, you can reduce your risk of fentanyl poisoning by using fentanyl test strips to check for the presence of fentanyl. If you choose to inject drugs, you should use a clean needle every time and dispose of sharps responsibly. If you need a sharps container, contact CHWS. If you need clean needles, go to the Tacoma Needle Exchange. 


Where can I get fentanyl test strips? 

Campus members can get fentanyl test strips through CHWS. The Tacoma Needle Exchange also offers drug testing and test strips. 


What is naloxone (Narcan)? 

Narcan/Naloxone counteracts the life-threatening effects of opioid overdose. It was developed for first responders, as well as family, friends, and caregivers.  Naloxone cannot affect someone who has not taken an opioid. If you suspect overdose or fentanyl poisoning might be present, go ahead and administer naloxone, even if you are unsure. 


Where can I get naloxone (Narcan)?

Campus members can get naloxone through CHWS. All Security Services personnel carry naloxone.