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Keep Spring Break safe: fentanyl risks with Dr. Robert Valuck

Courtesy of Keep the Party Safe

It’s no secret that teens and young adults experiment recreationally with drugs. At the end of the day almost 12% of Colorado teens report using some form of drugs, which is higher overall than the percentage who report using alcohol. Throughout March, teens and college students around the country are embarking on spring break, a time of leisure and often parties. KDNK’s Hattison Rensberry speaks with Dr. Robert Valuck, the executive director of Colorado’s Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, about the Keep the Party Safe initiative.


Keep the Party Safe is our education and awareness campaign to prevent and reverse Fentanyl overdoses. The focus of it primarily, it was designed to educate adults who might not know that they're vulnerable to a fentanyl overdose that they could be, and really to focus on some very key safety messages.


How does keep the party safe help to address the fentanyl epidemic as a whole in the state of.

It's trying to reach people and educate them of a couple of things. One is they may be at risk when they may not even think they are. people are, I think, starting to be aware of that because it's getting closer to home.

We're really trying to raise that awareness that fentanyl is there. It is obviously a very, very serious, deadly kind of threat to them. It shows up in places where you might not expect it. You're not seeking illicit drugs necessarily, or you think you're getting a tablet that would be a prescription drug tablet, but it's not.

It's a counterfeit tablet, or something that's been counterfeited and laced with fentanyl. So to make people aware of the danger. And then what are some steps they can take. To minimize their own risk and to keep themselves away from that danger. And we have several steps that the campaign has. Naloxone, designate a non-user, know what an overdose looks like and how to respond to it with that naloxone.

And then potentially as well, have things like fentanyl, test strips available, know what those are, and then to call 9 1 1. And then we do a lot of campaign, um, targeting to basically young adults. But this particular focus is on wide. adult education about these risks.


You're having a bit of a push right now because it's around time that students and young adults are off on spring break. What is it about this break in school and regular routine for people that can increased concerns of fentanyl overdoses?

It's just historically seems to be true that on vacations, spring breaks big nights of the year on New Year's Eve parties of St. Patrick's Day. This is an opportunity that people take and they sort of almost suspend normal, you know, risk protective behavior and are willing to take these risks that they're not normally willing to take in the rest of their day-to-day life and spring break seems to be one of those times. It sometimes happens that people do have this lower risk protection for themselves during these kinds of events. And we know Colorado's a popular spring break destination for skiing for other kinds of resorts down to down to the hot springs in Glenwood, all the way up to the mountain and Aspen, that there's a lot of folks that visit first Spring break and Colorado is that kind of destination.

But we also know Colorado has a relatively high. of recreational drug use, and that's also not untrue in the resort communities across our state. So we think that these two, these ingredients, when you put them together, has the potential to expose people to something if they thought it was, again, a prescription tablet or if they thought it was cocaine or if they thought it was something else that they were getting.

And it's not. It's either counterfeit fentanyl or laced fentanyl into something. Something that they might. Is just one time recreational thing while they're on spring break, that could kill somebody. And we don't wanna see that happen one time. You know, zero is the number for how many of those that we want.

So we want to educate, share this kind of messaging and we think it's really important.


And why should people in Colorado care about the opioid epidemic, and especially about fentanyl poisonings, and about mitigating them?

Really because it's, it's gotten vastly more serious with Fentanyl entering the scene.

The opioid crisis was already a big deal. Covid didn't help because it more isolation tends to create more substance use. And then now fentanyl is a hundred times more potent than morphine. Heroin is 10 times more potent, and fentanyl is 10 times more potent than heroin. So any mistake that you make, one. What I say is the lethality of it, the consequences have gotten more severe. Um, so before it was always dangerous to take something you didn't know what it was. That's always a bad idea. Now the consequences are just that much more drastic for people. When I started this work almost 20 years ago, we had 176 drug overdose deaths in the, in the state of Colorado.

Last year we had almost 2000 more than that, 2100 of them in Colorado. More than half of them though are Fentanyl involved. More than half. So we've got a thousand people that Fentanyl was involved. Very few, if any of them were seeking that as, what I was trying to do was get fentanyl. You know, it might happen once in a blue moon, but really people aren't seeking that.

And so because of that, we're seeing these numbers go way up. And I know a father from El Paso County whose sons accessed one, what they thought was one tablet of Oxycontin through a social media platform, purchased one tablet for 25 bucks and split the tablet. shared that both took a half a tablet and died.

Both of this done in one night. From one tablet from one choice where I'm just gonna get one. These were not long-term drug users, so this just means it can happen to anybody. You know, a high school student that has TikTok, you're this close to something that's lethal with one. tablet and we're seeing now that this flipping, so that more often than not, if it's a drug overdose death, fentanyl was involved, it's like 50.3%.

So majority of the time fentanyl is on board and it's very lethal. So people just need to know that and to be very careful and be harm reduction about what they do. Like, don't get in the car if you don't have your seatbelt on ever. Don't go out if you don't have Naloxone. And it's a designated non-user cuz if you overdose, you're not gonna reverse yourself.

People can download a little app called Opi Rescue and this is an app for them to be able to say, Hey, if I don't remember, I looked at the Keep the Party Safe website and when I was sitting there calmly I got the message. If you're in the heat of battle, so to speak, encountering someone that might be overdosing and you don't remember what to do, open up the op rescue app.

It walks you through what does an overdose look like? How do I respond to that? How do I report what happened anonymously? How do I maybe get resources for this person?"

In 2021, seven people died of overdoses in Garfield County, and three in each of Eagle, Pitkin, Lake, and Summit counties. Yesterday, the Garfield County sheriff shared a release spearheaded by the DEA warning of a sharp increase and widespread risk of Fentanyl mixed with Xylazine, a sedative that cannot be reversed by Naloxone.
Copyright 2023 KDNK. To see more, visit KDNK.

Hattison Rensberry
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