Fentanyl makes its way to California

To: UC Santa Cruz Community

From: Mary Knudtson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Health and Wellness; Nader Oweis, Chief of Police

Many of you have read news headlines regarding fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that has  become a growing public health crisis in cities across the United States. In California, two recent reports of fentanyl overdoses in Fresno and Chico, collectively led to two deaths and 14 hospitalizations. In the Fresno incident, all three people involved believed they were using cocaine, which later was determined to be “100 percent fentanyl” according to the deputy chief of the city’s police department.  


"It will make people stop breathing or have very diminished breathing," said Dr. Patil Armenian, a UCSF-Fresno emergency physician and medical toxicologist who treated the Jan. 7 victims. "It is so potent, the concern is that even with one exposure it could be enough to make someone stop breathing and die."


We have seen similar headlines in Santa Cruz prompting the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency to issue a warning about the rise and danger of fentanyl.


What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller that’s 100 times more powerful than morphine. It's intended as a "last resort" for cancer patients with a high tolerance for pain killers. Because it's synthetic (made in a lab) and typically cheaper, it's seen as more lucrative for drug dealers, who often add it to heroin, cocaine, or other drugs (including pills) to increase their profit.

The real risk with fentanyl isn’t people seeking it out, rather it’s receiving it unknowingly in doses of cocaine, heroin or altered pills. A rise in the presence of fentanyl in California will undoubtedly contribute to a rise in the number of overdoses and deaths, just as we are seeing in other parts of the country.


What are the dangers?

People at highest risk of overdose and fatality are those who unknowingly take fentanyl. Though similar in effects to other opioids, fentanyl’s extremely high potency makes it the most commonly used drug involved in overdoses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Signs of an overdose:

Knowing the signs of an opioid overdose can save a life. They include:

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Slow, shallow breathing

  • Choking or gurgling sounds

  • Limp body

  • Pale, blue or cold skin

What to do if you think someone is overdosing:  DO NOT DELAY CALLING 911

  • Call 911 immediately.

  • Administer Naloxone if available.

  • Stay with the person needing assistance.

  • Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.


Call 911 without hesitation if you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose.


More on naloxone:

All sworn members of UC Santa Cruz Police Department are equipped with and trained to administer naloxone. Naloxone is a medication that counters the effects of opioid overdose, allowing the person to breathe normally until medical professionals arrive. Naloxone kits are available to students at the UC Santa Cruz Pharmacy.

Responsible Action Plan:

Due to UC Santa Cruz’s Responsible Action Plan (Medical Amnesty Policy) if medical assistance is sought, a conduct record for violations of the University’s Alcohol and Drugs policies will not be created for the intoxicated student or the student(s) actively seeking medical assistance so long as all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The student requests OR another person contacts a University Official (e.g., Resident Assistant (RA), Community Safety Officer (CSO), police officer, etc.) for medical assistance on behalf of a student experiencing an alcohol or controlled substance medical-related emergency, stays with the individual requiring aid, follows the requests of medical staff, meets with the appropriate University Officials, and cooperates with any University investigation.

  2. No other Code of Student Conduct violations were committed by the students involved during the same incident.

  3. The student(s) has not received amnesty under this Plan more than twice in two calendar years starting from the date of the initial incident.

  4. Neither the UC Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment (Appendix G) Immunity clause or the UC Santa Cruz Anti-Hazing Policy already apply.

Campus Resources:

If you or someone you care about needs support around drug use or would like to learn more about Fentanyl, opioids, or alcohol and/or any other drugs, please utilize the resources provided through the Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP) program in the Student Health Center. SHOP is a safe, confidential and nonjudgmental space where students can talk about alcohol and other drugs.

The COVE, located above OPERS field also provides services for students in recovery.

For faculty and staff, assistance is available through the Employee Assistance Program.

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For more information check out our website: partylikeaslug.com.