Fentanyl and Drug Overdose: Perceptions of Fentanyl Risk, Overdose Risk Behaviors, and Opportunities for Intervention among People who use Opioids in Baltimore, USA

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Background: Fentanyl-related mortality has skyrocketed among people who use opioids (PWUO) in North America. The current study of PWUO aims to examine the perceived fentanyl risk and training needs; fatal overdose prevention behaviors; and, feasibility of a peer education approach to reducing fentanyl-related fatal overdoses in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Methods: 316 street-recruited PWUO were interviewed about fentanyl in Baltimore, MD. Results: Most participants (56%) reported that “all” or “almost all” heroin in Baltimore was adulterated with fentanyl and were worried (75%) about their drug buddies overdosing on fentanyl. Half (54%) the participants felt that they needed more training to respond to an overdose. Many participants (66%) reported receiving naloxone or a prescription for it, yet only 17% carried naloxone with them “often” or “always.” Among people who inject drugs (PWID) only 13% had naloxone available “often” or “always” when they injected with others, and 51% “often” or “always” injected alone. Almost half of participants (47%) were “very willing” to talk with people in their neighborhood about fentanyl. Conclusions: The majority of PWUO perceived that most heroin in Baltimore was adulterated with fentanyl, yet most did not carry naloxone and PWID often did so alone. Given the high perceived risk of fentanyl and relatively low uptake of fatal overdose prevention behaviors, there is an urgency for safe injection facilities, access to medically assisted treatment, and programs that work with the drug-using community to deliver overdose prevention training as well as promote behaviors to carry naloxone and not use drugs alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019



  • Fentanyl
  • naloxone
  • opioid
  • overdose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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