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Fentanyl Overdose Prevention

Fentanyl Overview

What is Fentanyl?  

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid medication that is used medically for the management of severe pain under the close supervision of a health care provider. Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, so even a small amount can lead to an overdose. It is impossible to know whether any drug has been laced with fentanyl just by looking at it, and fentanyl has no distinct taste. 

Understanding Overdoses 

Opioid overdoses occur when the body experiences an excessive amount of opioids, leading to life-threatening symptoms, including slowed breathing, loss of consciousness, and death. These situations can arise from the misuse of prescription pain medications or illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, as well as the ingestion of substances unknowingly laced with an opioid like fentanyl. Substances that could be laced with fentanyl include counterfeit prescription medications, cannabis/marijuana, and other illicit drugs, such as heroin, molly/ecstasy, and cocaine. 

Strategies to Reduce Risk of Fentanyl Overdose 

The only safe and risk-free option is to only use medications prescribed to you, dispensed directly to you by a pharmacist, and used exactly as prescribed. If you choose to use a non-prescription illicit drug or a prescription drug that is not prescribed to you, there is no way to guarantee the drug is not laced with fentanyl or other potentially harmful substances. However, there are ways to reduce risk of serious injury or death from an opioid overdose, including testing your drugs for fentanyl and carrying and administering Narcan (naloxone) if you see someone who may be experiencing an opioid overdose. 

Fentanyl Test Strips

Fentanyl test strips are small, portable tools that allow users to test substances/drugs for the presence of fentanyl and some fentanyl analogs.  

 How to use Fentanyl Test Strips 



Common Questions about Fentanyl Test Strips

What drugs should I test for the presence of fentanyl? The drugs/substances below could be laced with fentanyl and should always be tested before use, but this is not an exhaustive list. 

How do I read a test? 


Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

One red line = positive for fentanyl

Two red lines = negative for fentanyl

Remember: This is the opposite of typical COVID-19 tests!


What if I get a positive test? Discard the substance immediately. Because of the potency of fentanyl, even a small amount can be deadly. 

What if I get a negative test? Fentanyl test strips are not foolproof and may not detect all forms of fentanyl or other dangerous substances. A negative test result does NOT guarantee that the drug does not have fentanyl or other dangerous substances, so test strips should always be used in conjunction with other harm reduction practices, even if the test is negative. 

What are the limitations of fentanyl test strips?

Remember:  A negative test result does NOT guarantee that the drug is safe from harm. 


Where can I get fentanyl test strips?

FREE fentanyl test strips are available at the Norris Center Desk and on the third floor of Searle Hall (633 Emerson St/Health Services building) next to the sexual health supplies. You do not have to speak with a staff member to pick up test strips and no information will be collected from you. 

Health Promotion and Wellness is working to expand distribution locations across campus, and we will continue to update our website with this information as it is available. 

Naloxone (brand name Narcan) 

What is Naloxone?

Naloxone is a medication that can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as opioids, effectively blocking their effects and restoring normal breathing. Naloxone is not effective against other forms of overdose. 

Although Naloxone is a lifesaving tool, it has limitations. It may not fully reverse the effects of potent opioids like fentanyl, and multiple doses may be required. Naloxone is not a substitute for emergency medical care, so it is crucial to call 911 immediately when an overdose is suspected, regardless of whether naloxone is used. 

How Can I Get Naloxone (Narcan)? 

The simplest form of naloxone, the nasal spray, is available by prescription, as well as over the counter at pharmacies and on-campus through Health Promotion and Wellness. If you or someone you know uses illicit drugs or prescription medications that are not prescribed for them, you should consider carrying naloxone. Students can obtain naloxone from HPaW by attending a one-hour training on how to recognize and respond to opioid overdoses and how to appropriately administer naloxone.

Register for an existing training or express interest in attending a future training using this Google form. 

Other Harm Reduction Strategies 

If you choose to use drugs, in addition to using fentanyl test strips and carrying naloxone, you should: 

Additional Resources 
  1. NU Alcohol and Other Drug Resources
  2. Chicago Recovery Alliance
  3. National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)