The nation’s fentanyl overdose crisis appeared within a few steps of Eduardo Ornelas at a recent music festival in Colorado.
“I was just a bystander, enjoying the music,” said Ornelas, a second-year PharmD student at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “In front of us, a guy collapsed and a big crowd started forming. I knew that I had Narcan in my backpack … I looked at his pupils and they were like pinpoints.
“I immediately knew that it was an overdose situation, so I pulled out the Narcan and used it on him … Within three or four minutes, you could see him start responding. You could see his breathing start improving.”
Ornelas’ quick action likely saved the man’s life that night. “I was really glad that I had it with me … It will save lives,” he said of the naloxone nasal spray, an overdose-reversal medication he received weeks earlier from the Keep the Party Safe campaign, launched by the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention (Consortium).
For more about Keep The Party Safe and its CU Anschutz student volunteers, please check out this video:
Student help is key
Ornelas is among a group of CU Anschutz students who are volunteering this summer to educate concertgoers about precautions they can take to keep themselves, their friends and fellow music lovers safe should they find themselves in an overdose situation. They have helped Keep the Party Safe give away more than 5,000 doses of naloxone and 1,860 fentanyl test strips.
CU Anschutz students volunteer at a Keep the Party Safe tent at a concert earlier this summer.
Colorado has seen an almost 70% increase in fatal fentanyl overdoses during the pandemic. Statewide in 2021, a total of 1,881 people died from overdoses involving any type of drug. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, meaning a fatal overdose can happen suddenly, according to the Consortium.
“In each of the past two years, we’ve had more than 900 people die of overdoses (in Colorado) that were linked to fentanyl,” said Michael Davidson, senior communications professional at the Consortium. “Either it’s fentanyl on its own or in a counterfeit pill, or it’s tainting a drug like cocaine or MDMA. It’s in meth now. So a lot of people don’t know that what they’re taking contains fentanyl. There are also an unknown number of people who are overdosing but survive, either through using naloxone or receiving other medical treatment.”
In May, Keep the Party Safe announced a partnership with AEG Presents: Rocky Mountains that has offered educational resources at multiple AEG Presents-owned and -operated venues and festivals. The partnership, which is bolstered by student volunteers who staff tents and demonstrate how to administer naloxone, has the potential to reach over 1.2 million concertgoers with educational resources over the next year.
Appearances at concerts is one of several tactics the campaign has used to reach not just music fans but anyone in Colorado who might occasionally use illicit drugs.