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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

Health & Well-Being

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Protecting our communities — what is fentanyl?

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Let’s be clear about the data — the vast majority of Stanford students do NOT use drugs. We know that approximately 12% of our community has used some type of illicit substance within the past year. That puts 12% of our student body at risk for purchasing and using drugs that may be counterfeit and laced with highly lethal substances, such as fentanyl.


Fentanyl is a highly potent (50x more potent than heroin, 100x more potent than morphine) synthetic opioid that is cheap to manufacture. If you imagine pinching just a few grains of sand between your fingers, that is a lethal dose of fentanyl. Check out more facts and FAQs about Fentanyl and fake pills here: Facts about Fentanyl

In 2021, deaths from fentanyl overdoses became the leading cause of death for 18-45 year olds. The vast majority of these deaths are accidental and caused by ingesting drugs from the illicit market that are unknowingly laced with fentanyl; in other words, fentanyl poisoning.

Fentanyl is often found in counterfeit pills that look identical to prescription opioids (e.g. Oxycodone, Percocet), prescription benzodiazepine medications (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, Valium), and has been found in cocaine, methamphetamine, and even cannabis from the illicit cannabis market. Expect and act as if any substance purchased on illicit markets contains fentanyl.

The most important thing to know is that a single pill can kill. Whether you are experimenting, trying a pill for the first time, or you are more experienced with taking pills - if you are obtaining drugs from any source other than a licensed pharmacy or licensed dispensary, the risk of the drugs being laced with fentanyl is disturbingly high.

Recent research has revealed that, nationally, in a sampling of drugs circulating the illicit market, almost HALF contained a lethal dose of fentanyl. In some localities (like northern and southern California and the northeast) this percentage is estimated to be much higher.

Protect each other — seek help without fear! 

Good Samaritan laws in the state of California protect those who seek to help someone who has used illicit substances, even if they themselves have also used illicit substances. Similarly, the university practices Good Samaritan policies that you can read about here.

Help our communities —don’t harm us.

As a reminder, students are legally liable, and will be held accountable by the university and law enforcement if they provide, sell, or intentionally drug another person against their knowledge with illicit substances. This is a serious offense and is an affront to the community values we hold.

Fentanyl Testing Strips — do I need them?

Fentanyl testing strips (FTS) are a strip that allows a person to dissolve the substance they plan to use into a small amount of water and test if there is fentanyl in the substance. They can be a life saving harm reduction measure for certain types of drug testing. However, they are not an alternative to, or as effective as, avoiding substances acquired on the illicit market.

Source matters! 

One should assume that any drug obtained off the illicit market could be laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl has been found in counterfeit prescription pills claiming to be things like Percocet or Xanax, but has also been found in cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and even more recently, in illicit market cannabis*. Lacing is not always intentional. It can happen by accident with cross contamination during production. Don’t assume that just because a source is an experienced drug user or seller that their supply isn’t laced. Remember, even celebrities with lots of money and access have been sold laced pills and have died from them.
*Yes! An illicit market for cannabis still exists even though the state of California has legalized cannabis for those over 21. If you are going to use cannabis, get it from a licensed dispensary. 

Drug type matters! 

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Reliability of the testing strip depends on the drug you are testing. If it’s a baggie of powder vs. a baggie of pills – that makes a difference. Why? It’s called the chocolate chip paradigm. When distributors are prepping counterfeit pills and pressing them to sell, there is no quality control. That means that each pill you get could have varying amounts of fentanyl either purposely, or due to cross contamination in the preparation stage. So, if you test one pill in the bag and the result is negative for fentanyl, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is no fentanyl in the other pills in the bag.

  • If you are testing pills, the only way to know that your pills aren’t laced is to test the entirety of each pill individually. Each time you’d have to dissolve it completely in the required amount of water, use the strip, and then drink it as your method of use.
  • If you are testing powder, you can shake up the powder to distribute whatever is in the powder more evenly and then test several different portions, remixing each time for best results. A negative result still isn’t a guarantee of no fentanyl in the batch because even just a few grains of fentanyl is a lethal dose.

Testing strips ARE really useful when you get a positive result. A positive result means you throw away the entire batch, it’s laced with fentanyl, and you should assume the whole batch is laced. 

A negative result is more complicated. It doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t fentanyl in the batch. It just means it wasn’t detected in the pill or bit of powder that you tested. It's also important to remember, fentanyl is only one type of drug that is commonly used to lace all sorts of illicit drugs. There are many other highly potent synthetic opioids and fentanyl testing strips have yet to be well tested against the newer analogs for their usefulness in detecting them. Fentanyl testing stips will only tell you if there is fentanyl in the drug.

If you are going to use drugs, the safest option is to use ones that came from a trusted licensed pharmacy.

Avoid online stores that front as a pharmacy! If you buy drugs off the illicit market (unlicensed online “pharmacy”, off of social media, or from a friend or dealer), and that drug tests positive for fentanyl with a strip, throw out the whole batch. It’s laced and likely deadly. Learn more about how fentanyl testing strips work here.

On Campus Resources

Additional Resources

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Curious about your relationship to substances?

Cardinal Recovery is an open and growing community ready to welcome you as you explore your past, present, and future relationship to substances. Any student, regardless of their recovery pathway, relationship, or status, is invited to participate in this community. Learn more about Cardinal Recovery via visiting the link below.