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Cheap, potent and deadly – the challenges of the fentanyl epidemic

Two students with backpacks talk with each other while walking. Spread the Word to Save Lives. May 9 National Fentanyl Awareness Day.

Two people every day.

In King County, fentanyl-involved overdoses kill two people in our community every day. Nationwide, fentanyl is involved in more deaths of Americans under 50 than any cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide and other accidents.

Five people died on the University of Washington campus in Seattle during the past academic year after drug overdoses. While none of these individuals were formally affiliated with the UW, they were all part of our larger community, had potential, had loved ones and were cared about.

Fentanyl has proved dangerously difficult to recognize – and profitable to cut into other street drugs. A potentially lethal dose of fentanyl can be as little as two milligrams, equivalent in size to a few grains of salt. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if a substance is or contains fentanyl just by looking at it.

Today, on National Fentanyl Awareness Day, we are asking the UW community to help save lives.

Here’s what you can do to reduce the risk of overdose:

Improving the lives of people affected by drug use and addition

The UW is participating in national and local efforts to address drug use and addiction. The University’s Addiction, Drugs & Alcohol Institute is conducting innovative research and tracking Washington state data related to overdose deaths, treatment, admissions, statewide opioid sales and police evidence testing data for opioids and other drugs.

The Institute’s research shows a sharp rise in deaths from synthetic opioids, the most common of which is fentanyl and its analogues, eclipsing heroin deaths in 2020.

We want everyone on our campus to go home safe every day. People in the United States are dying from fentanyl at alarming rates. Getting the facts about fentanyl and sharing them widely is a good first step in addressing this community-wide crisis.