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Students, campus must remain vigilant against threats of rainbow fentanyl

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OCTOBER 13, 2022

Throughout UC Berkeley’s campus, October brings numerous blessings — the walk to class tolerable in a sweater in crisp weather, the end of midterm season and, as always, a raging Halloweekend to stave away the chill of another oncoming storm of exams. 

This year, though, the weekend could hold more than house parties and couples’ costumes, though not for the better. A recent threat to the fun comes in the deadly form of candy-colored “rainbow fentanyl.” 

This August, multiple law enforcement officials across the country identified “rainbow fentanyl” in their respective cities. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid originally developed for pain management in cancer patients. Due to its potency, it is now abused or mixed with other drugs such as heroin to produce a short-term high and euphoria. 

Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous drug. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, as little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl, or the equivalent of 10 to 15 grains of salt, can potentially kill a person. 

Rainbow fentanyl specifically poses a danger because of its attractive hue. In various forms, the drug can often be mistaken for candy, therefore posing a greater threat when a candy-centric holiday is just around the corner. 

Rainbow and regular fentanyl can appear in pills or cocaine, and they’re easily mistaken for other nonfatal recreational drugs. There is virtually no way to distinguish fake fentanyl pills from pills of other drugs.

In light of this, we need to be realistic. Drugs, especially recreational drugs such as cocaine, can circulate around campus and may be present at house parties. Abstinence education is not an effective enough protection against drug usage, especially for college students. Campus and community members must continue to participate in drug education and teach safety measures — such as Narcan administration and first aid — to prevent overdoses and death.  

On campus, the Harm Reduction Expansion Project hopes to expand and educate about harm-reduction practices and provide training and resources to prevent fentanyl overdoses. Beyond education, the group provides low or zero-cost fentanyl test strips and Narcan, which is an opioid reversal — or “antidote” — medication in the form of a nasal spray. The group tables on Sproul Plaza on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., or on Wednesdays from 1-4 p.m. in 102 Sproul Hall. Fentanyl testing strips are also available Monday through Saturday at the University Health Service Pharmacy during operating hours. Off campus, websites such as End Overdose also provide training for administering Narcan, and a dose is delivered after training certification for a small shipping fee.

The Harm Reduction Expansion Project is especially helpful in its commitment to decreasing harm and stigma from drugs rather than using a shame-based approach. In allowing people to access tools to make drug consumption safer, the project saves lives and provides crucial aid for campus and community members. When the resources to prevent harm exist, we must all take responsibility to help our peers stay safe, too.

Campus must also continue to maintain its harm-reduction project and provide active training on drugs such as rainbow fentanyl as it becomes aware of them. Student government should continue to implement plans that assist in these efforts as well, such as former ASUC official Amanda Hill’s efforts toward fentanyl test-strip access.

Students, utilize these resources and educate yourselves on the bodily signs of opioid overdoses. Only go to parties with trusted friends and keep an eye on one another. Make preliminary plans with your friends about what to do in the case of an overdose occurrence. Carry test strips and Narcan with you. 

As Halloween approaches, it is up to all of us to keep campus and the Berkeley community safe. When even one pinch of fentanyl can be fatal, you can never be too careful. Get trained, be smart and focus on being safe with your partying.

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OCTOBER 13, 2022