Focusing on fentanyl: If you party, plan ahead

As returning students head back to campus and new students set foot on campus for the very first time, one thing we can all count on is that this is a time we’re looking to make new friends and solidify old bonds. While not all students like to party, and even fewer use drugs when they party, some do. It’s important for students to consider the risks of using substances these days, when fentanyl has become part of our drug supply.

First of all, what is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is one of a class of drugs called “opioids”, drugs that bind to receptors in our brain and alter our perceptions of pain. There are many different opioids, including prescription drugs like Tylenol 3, OxyContin, and Percocet. When prescribed, they are often used after surgery or for moderate-to-severe pain treatment.

Some opioids that are available by prescription or used in hospitals are also manufactured in illicit labs, or “kitchens”. These drugs can be made to look like prescription drugs, and can also be sold as, or show up in, party drugs, like cocaine or MDMA.

Different opioids also have different potencies (strengths). It has been reported that fentanyl is 100 times stronger than hospital-grade morphine. And the even newer carfentanil is said to be 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

What’s important for students to know (when it comes to fentanyl and other opioids)?

The real challenge with the drugs that students are using at parties is that they’re part of an uncontrolled supply chain. When drugs are manufactured and obtained outside of a regulated system, it’s impossible to be sure about the contents of the drug and amount they’re taking.

When people can trust what they’re taking, they can better manage their risk. Like alcohol. This is important to remember because fentanyl is often not the drug the person is intending to take. Many people who have overdosed believed they were taking MDMA, cocaine, another type of opioid or something else altogether—but the substance contained some fentanyl.

Haven’t we already talked about this enough?

Open conversations create trust, reduce fear, and make it possible for us to learn from one another.

Engaging in thoughtful, open-ended conversation helps us to develop the skills to assess risk, think critically, and make better decisions. Once we’ve considered something carefully we’re a lot less likely to act out of impulse, habit, or in response to influences like peer pressure.

And we can apply these takeaways to other aspects of life—like how to help a friend going through a rough patch, recognize the signs of overdose, respond in a crisis, and how to be true to ourselves. But we need to take care not to lecture. 

Is there anything we can really do to prevent overdosing?

Understanding the risks and how to mitigate them can go a long way!

Risk is central to our growth and development, and we often embrace ones with the potential for reward because the pay-off helps us lead fulfilling lives.

Ever tried or considered rock climbing? In order to get the most out of it, you would take time to identify safe practices that mitigate the risk, such as bringing a buddy and testing the quality of your harness.

Many of us think that the opioid overdose crisis only affects people who use drugs regularly, or have an addiction. But even a single occasion that (accidentally) involves fentanyl can lead to overdose.

So it makes sense to use the same care and thoughtfulness when going to a party where you and your friends will likely encounter new opportunities, and risks.

What do you suggest then?

You can still have a good time out, while managing your risk! A few tips to keep in mind:

  • It’s safest to only party with friends or people you trust (i.e., use in a safe environment).
  • If you are using a drug in a group, it can be useful for one person to try the drug first. You can also “test it before you ingest it” using these fentanyl test strips.
  • Know your source (but remember there are no truly safe sources for uncontrolled substances!).
  • Stick to one substance and pace yourself so you don’t get in over your head (you can always do more, but you can never do less).
  • Avoid mixing alcohol with other drugs, as they can interact in unpredictable ways. You can also learn more about how different drugs can interact using this drug combination chart.
  • If you or someone you know does overdose, it helps to know the signs and symptoms of overdose and how to respond. Most campuses now offer overdose training and naloxone kits.
  • If you find yourself using more often, it might be time to ask yourself why—are you using substances to cope with life or maybe feeling pressured by others?

Learn more >>>

Catriona Remocker, Campus Projects Consultant, Systems View Consulting

Tanya Miller, Provincial Coordinator, Healthy Minds | Healthy Campuses

A photo of Kristina Jenei

Kristina Jenei, Research Assistant, Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, Opioid Dialogues

Strengthening community through dialogue: Let’s Talk Cannabis

a photo of two people having a conversation

Some time ago there was an anthropologist who lived amongst a North American tribe. He noticed that from time to time the tribe would meet in a circle. They talked and talked and talked –for what seemed like no purpose at all. There was no leader and no agenda. No decisions were made. Although tribe members tended to listen to the elders a bit more – wise men and women- everybody in the circle participated as equals. The meeting went on until it stopped and the group dispersed. The anthropologist didn’t understand until one day the tribe was challenged. What he observed was remarkable. Everybody understood each other so well that they knew what to do. There was no crisis. They could easily move towards action having recognized the beliefs, values and perspectives that reside inside their community. -David Bohm, On Dialogue

We know that strong communities make for healthier citizens. And when our communities nurture human connections, we are better able to face social challenges. But in our day and age, we have stopped investing in community understanding. Polarizations exist and we have stopped talking to each other. Competitiveness and self-interest have made it difficult to truly hear each other. We find it hard to deal with divergent opinion or contested evidence. As a result, our conversations tend to mimic our civic life of disconnection.

So, how do communities build strength and resilience, especially in light of upcoming cannabis policy changes?

Dialogue is a way to create trust and explore new possibilities for a community. It is deeply needed in our divided world. Addressing complex issues such as cannabis legalization requires that we come together as a community and build understanding. Similar to the members of the tribe, we need opportunities to talk with each other in safe environments and create connection. Few of us ever take the opportunity to engage respectfully with people who hold different views. Our social networks are generally made up of people who share our beliefs. Yet when we engage with people who are different from us, we get to see another side of the human story. Even if we do not wholly agree with the new perspective, listening openly and empathically expands our understanding.

What exactly is dialogue?

Ironically, dialogue is more about listening than talking. The sort of listening that is important in dialogue demands our empathy and our genuine curiosity about the experiences of other people—including their assumptions, beliefs and values. When people feel listened to, they also feel validated and respected. The experience of being listened to empathically widens our minds and opens our hearts—and prepares us to listen appreciatively to others with the same kind of engagement and respect, even to people with radically different experiences and points of view.

Unlike other forms of public communication (for example, debates or negotiations), dialogue is not meant to lead immediately to agreement or action. Instead, the hope is that we will come away from dialogue with a new understanding of the subject, of each other and of ourselves. This new understanding enables us to work together more effectively as community members. As a result, our communities become more flexible, and better able to respond to challenges. And as individuals and communities, we develop a greater sense of control over our own lives and well-being.

Dialogue is more than a process or methodology—it is a way of being. It is an art that requires reflective practice. It is the skill of connecting and building bridges between individuals with different views, especially in times of change.

What does dialogue about cannabis look like?

Communities across Canada have expressed divergent opinions and concerns about legalized cannabis. A national partnership was formed to help communities create spaces where people can come together and build understanding of each other, of themselves and of the subject.

Communities are doing everything from conversation cafés to photo voice to walking tours to spark the dialogue about cannabis. With a focus on questions rather than answers, participants are moving towards a deeper space of inquiry together. Dialogue encourages us to be creative and move away from typical large-scale forums that privilege “expert” opinion. While providing information is important, the real challenge is to level the playing field and maximize opportunities for community members to interact, exchange views and acknowledge each other’s values, beliefs and assumptions.  Opportunities like this might start to address some of the polarizations we see today and also create a foundation for communities to start working together instead of apart.


Let’s Talk Cannabis is led by the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. The partnership includes the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, the British Columbia Ministry of Health, Alberta Health Services, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Health and Community Service. Due to the difference from other forms of communication, resources were developed to aid communities in understanding and facilitating dialogue.

A photo of Kristina Jenei

Kristina Jenei, coordinator, Let’s talk Cannabis project

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.