The University of Northern Colorado has partnered with the Weld County Health Department to distribute thousands of fentanyl testing kits to students when needed. The test strips have already been delivered to UNC staff and are already being handed out to students who request them.
John Hancock, assistant vice president for wellness and support at the university, said UNC has already handed out hundreds of tests to students who have requested them. The tests are much like a COVID-19 test in the sense that they provide positive, negative or inconclusive results based on the stripes that appear on the testing strip.
"If you get two lines that is what you're hoping for, it is a negative test," Hancock said.
UNC has not had a student death related to fentanyl overdose in recent years. However, Weld County and the rest of Colorado have seen many deaths as a result of the deadly drug.
Hancock said UNC wanted to obtain the tests to further assure students are protected from possibly overdosing.
"It is really important that we are on top of this," Hancock said.
The tests obtained by UNC are not available for use by members of the general public, rather they are reserved for use by students in need. Hancock said the kits should not be used as a method of furthering drug use, but rather as a method for those who are electing to take drugs they were not prescribed to assure they are not laced with fentanyl.
"What you worry about is a student who might be taking a pill of Adderall or Xanax, something they don't expect has fentanyl in it," Hancock said.
Hancock said the university advises students to only take medications that they were prescribed by a doctor and picked up directly from the pharmacy themselves.
"If you live on campus we can have those strips delivered to your door. If you are off campus we make them available for pickup," Hancock said.
Hancock said the testing kits are very effective, most times working at more than 95% accuracy. However, he said that margin of error should still serve as a warning to students electing to consume pills they did not get from the pharmacy.
Hancock said testing narcotics for fentanyl can be like testing a cookie for chocolate chips. He said it is possible to cut a sliver from the cookie and not have any chocolate chips in that sliver while the rest of the untested cookie could be filled with chocolate.
He said the same could be said for pills that are not thoroughly tested for fentanyl. The margin of error of the tests and the potential of not thoroughly testing a drug could still result in tragedy.
"The only safe way to use drugs is to use the ones coming from the pharmacy prescribed to you. If you are not going to do that, there are ways we can reduce the potential risk of harm," Hancock said. "One pill can kill. We want to make people aware of what the dangers are so then they can make the best-informed decisions that they can."
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