Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Harm reduction efforts increase as fentanyl related deaths persist nationwide

Opoid related overdoses raise concerns in Dane County, across Wisconsin
Elliot Moormann

A surge in opioid-related overdoses in Dane County raised concerns and warranted emergency initiatives in the fall of 2022. In 2021, opioid and fentanyl related deaths accounted for 86% of all overdose deaths in Dane County.

In an email statement to The Badger Herald, Public Health Madison and Dane County supervisor Julie Olsen said that due to fentanyl’s extreme potency, adding small amounts to other illicit substances extends the drug supply for cheaper, maximizing profits for these drug trafficking organizations.

Because there is no regulated safe drug supply in the U.S., there is no way to monitor the amounts of fentanyl in manufactured products, according to Olsen.


This public health crisis is apparent not only in Dane County but also statewide. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and Division of Criminal Investigation arrested six individuals March 24, 2023, for smuggling five kilograms of fentanyl from Arizona to Madison, Wisconsin through the mail, according to the Wisconsin DOJ.

Additionally, the city of Milwaukee held a press conference addressing the deaths of 18 individuals in Milwaukee County between April 1 and April 4, according to TMJ4.

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The use of opioids and smuggling of fentanyl has strong implications on students.

University of Wisconsin professor of family medicine and community health Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar said it can be difficult for individuals to determine what substances they are consuming.

“You have to be really careful about what you’re taking,” Salisbury-Afshar said. “We are seeing more and more counterfeit materials. It’s really hard to know what you’re actually getting when you buy something or get something.”

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration has found counterfeit pills containing amounts of fentanyl ranging from 0.02 to 5.1 milligrams per tablet.

The DEA also analyzed drug trafficking operations and learned that fentanyl is usually distributed by the kilogram, with one kilogram having the potential to kill 500,000 people.

Leaders on the UW campus and across the state of Wisconsin are working to fight against the dangers posed by fentanyl.

Assistant Director for High-Risk Drinking Prevention at University Health Services Jenny Damask said UHS staff has been very concerned about the opioid epidemic, with fentanyl causing even greater concern.

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In 2020, Damask started Badger Recovery, a collegiate recovery program at UHS to provide resources for those struggling with addiction.

“Our program is about coming together as college students here at UW,” Damask said. “We have topics that we discuss and sometimes things come up. People are dealing with some things and want to chat about that, so it’s just a really great support peer to peer.”

In addition to the support provided by UHS, the UW chapter of End Overdose works to educate and provide harm reduction resources across campus, according to co-president Ishi Nagpal.

End Overdose is a national organization with chapters at campuses across the U.S. Nagpal helped establish the UW chapter during the fall of 2022. At UW, the organization helps inform students about fentanyl and overdosing, including how to appropriately respond to situations related to this.

“I’ve learned a lot about overdoses, fentanyl and opioids that I didn’t know,” Nagpal said. “It’s really cool to be able to share that knowledge with students through presentations, Instagram posts and statistics.”

Nagpal and members of End Overdose also work to advocate for widespread access to harm reduction tools on campus. These tools often include fentanyl testing strips and Narcan.

Access to fentanyl testing strips — which can indicate if a drug contains fentanyl within minutes — in Wisconsin increased in March 2022 when Gov. Tony Evers signed bipartisan legislation that decriminalized the use of fentanyl testing strips.

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Access to Naloxone, a medication which can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, has also increased nationally, with the recent approval of over-the-counter sales by the FDA in March 2023.

“I think it’s great that there’s more funding being put towards these kinds of initiatives, giving states funding for harm reduction strategies, getting Narcan out there, getting fentanyl test strips out there,” Nagpal said.

Students are encouraged to carry Naloxone, as administering it to someone who is not overdosing does not harm them, Nagpal said.

During the fall of 2022, University Housing also installed Nalox-ZONE boxes in all campus housing. These boxes contain nasal spray Naloxone, a breathing mask and instructions on how to administer the medication to an individual.

Reducing stigma around addiction and recovery is also critical to harm reduction, according to Salisbury-Afshar.

“If you know someone who’s struggling with addiction, just to be there for them and be supportive,” Salisbury-Afshar said. “That sounds really basic, but often when people are struggling, they feel really isolated and alone. There’s a lot of shame usually associated with addiction. Just knowing there’s someone who’s going to stand by you unconditionally actually goes a really long way.”

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