Albelda: One Pill No More, Northwestern

Ryan Albelda, Op-Ed Contributor

My name is Ryan Albelda and I graduated from Northwestern in 2019. My sister graduated from NU this past June. After reading Isabel Podolsky’s op-ed about her hospital experience, it’s clear to me that the University and surrounding area are completely underprepared to manage drug-related incidents. 

I’m worried. According to the chief of the Chicago division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chicago and the surrounding area are facing a national trend of hard drugs being increasingly laced with fentanyl. Drugs laced with fentanyl killed one of my best friends from high school last month, and I’m scared that, because of the Evanston community’s underpreparedness, the same might happen at NU. 

In its first public safety alert in six years, the Drug Enforcement Administration warned about a dramatic increase in fake prescription drugs being sold on the black market containing a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. Its lab testing revealed that two out of every five pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 93,000 Americans died from a drug overdose last year. 

The University is completely underprepared because there are no ways for students to be able to test their drugs nor have knowledge on how to deal with an overdose. It’s naïve to think that when students come to college, they won’t engage with drugs. As a member of the class of 2019, I saw my fair share of cocaine and other hard drugs. 

Even the illicit drug industry is not immune to COVID-19’s impacts on the supply chain. As a Logistics Analyst for Amazon’s international freight team, I have firsthand experience working with the constraints and limitations of the transportation system. The NPR article ‘Narconomics’ highlights how many drug cartel supply chains operate similar to that of large retail supply chains. In the efforts to maintain the global logistics network, it is devastating to see where these endeavors have led to lethal impacts compared to just longer wait times for consumer goods. 

A recent New York Times article about the increase of deaths due to drugs laced with fentanyl mentions how dealers have been affected by supply chain issues and increasing prices. 

“Some have turned to substitutes like fentanyl — cheaper and more readily available than cocaine or heroin — to bulk out their wares, keeping their supply of drugs flowing, whatever the human cost,” the article said. “But even a speck of fentanyl can kill.” 

The lack of training and support when it comes to those who have accidentally overdosed is alarming. While the University puts out training on how to help those who are drunk, how do you save someone’s life when they overdose?

To solve this, NU can partner with groups like Lurie Children’s Hospital, which offers training on how to use a Narcan, a medicine that can temporarily counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. The University could also employ the Center for Awareness, Response and Education and offer free fentanyl test strips for students to allow for safer usage of drugs. People in college are going to do drugs, so might as well do them safely. 

Ryan Albelda is a recent Northwestern alum who currently works in supply chain in Seattle. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.