University of Oregon students hope access to test strips, Naloxone increases through Legislature bill

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
April 15, 2023 1 p.m.

If passed, House Bill 2395 could help curb the growing number of fentanyl overdoses in the state

Macy Patel started getting worried about fentanyl on campus at the University of Oregon last year.

“I was hearing about friends and hearing stories of people, like friends of friends, who were testing their drugs and having them have fentanyl content, rather than what they were intending to take,” said Patel, a third-year student at the University of Oregon and a member of its student government, the Associated Students of UO.


“Drug use is going to happen on college campuses … And I think the best way to go about [dealing with] that is harm reduction and safe drug use, because it’s going to happen either way, and we don’t want students dying.”

Patel is part of ASUO’s effort to get drug test strips and other harm reduction materials on the Eugene campus to combat the growing number of fentanyl overdoses across Oregon. But they have run into some speed bumps. Drug test strips are classified as drug paraphernalia under state law, and people and institutions can be held liable for distributing Naloxone — also known as Narcan, the medication that helps counteract opioid overdoses — if something goes wrong.

A bill moving through the Oregon Legislature could smooth out those speed bumps. If passed, House Bill 2395 would make access easier to Naloxone, and it would protect the people who distribute it from liability. It would also decriminalize providing drug testing strips at public places, including on university campuses where drug use has shifted from being a risky but somewhat expected part of college life to a more serious and potentially deadly situation.

The University of Oregon told OPB in a statement that it supports the bill and commends state lawmakers for their work addressing the opioid crisis and “opening the door to making potentially life-saving medication available to public entities.”

But, until the bill is passed, students are doing all they can to increase education and safety themselves.

Students walk across the University of Oregon campus on a rainy March day in this 2015 file photo.

Students walk across the University of Oregon campus on a rainy March day in this 2015 file photo.

Alan Sylvestre / OPB

“We know that young people and students are a high risk group,” said Nick Keough, legislative director of the Oregon Student Association, a nonprofit that advocates for college students across the state. “Students came to us because they have been seeking to distribute harm reduction materials on their campuses.”

Keough said large quantities of fentanyl have already been confiscated in the Eugene area.

Late last year, the Eugene Police Department made its largest confiscation of fentanyl in department history — about 18 pounds, according to the city of Eugene. In Portland, there were 11 overdose-related emergency calls just in the span of one day late last month.

“I really think the state’s response to this crisis needs to be as rapid as illicitly manufactured fentanyl has come on the scene, or else we will continue to lose people across our state,” Keough said.


They said although the student push for the bill originated at the University of Oregon, students at institutions across the state have agreed the legislation is a “no-brainer.”

State law has made it difficult, but harm reduction work has still persisted on UO’s campus.

Kavi Shrestha, a third-year student and ASUO’s vice president, said the student government has worked with local nonprofits to distribute Naloxone at campus events — a workaround to free the university and student government from the legal liability that comes with directly distributing the opioid counteractive drug.

Some of that distribution has taken place at ASUO’s Street Faire, an annual event where vendors fill the main street running through UO’s campus in the springtime. Shrestha said the student government worked with the nonprofit Henry’s Uncle, founded by a UO alum, to distribute Naloxone.

“We had just a ton of student interest,” Shrestha said. “I think it was around 600 doses this past Street Faire, and the nonprofit literally had to close down from when they were supposed to be at the Street Faire early every day to sort of ration the amount of Narcan there.”

Shrestha also acknowledges that drug use is a common part of being on a university campus, but the increased presence of fentanyl is changing that perception.

“A lot of students are maybe experimenting with drugs for the first time, and it might be that one-time drug user who just makes a mistake at a party,” he said. “Since fentanyl is so present in the drug supply today, that one time could kill them, and I think people shouldn’t die from mistakes.”

Shrestha suggests Naloxone is easy to distribute and use, and argues it makes sense to make it available.

Shrestha said the student government plans to continue working with nonprofits to distribute Naloxone, including at its upcoming Street Faire next month, but it can’t do the same with drug testing strips. While the hesitancy to directly distribute Naloxone comes from worries around liability, drug testing strips’ status as drug paraphernalia makes them illegal to distribute, period.

“I’m super in favor of Narcan and other harm reduction techniques, but the reason why I’m so passionate about decriminalizing fentanyl test strips is because that is a preventative measure, whereas with Narcan … that happens after the fact,” said Kayla Krueger, an academic senator for ASUO and another third-year student at the university.

Krueger has been working to offer fentanyl test strips on campus since last year, but because of their classification as drug paraphernalia, she hasn’t been able to.

Krueger told OPB she knows some students go out of their way to buy test strips and test their drugs for fentanyl. But she believes the lack of accessibility to test strips has kept that from becoming a widespread practice.

“I think being able to provide drug test strips will increase the safety at UO 100%, because I think a lot more students would take it seriously because it’s convenient, and they wouldn’t have to pay any money to get the test strips,” she said. “I wouldn’t pursue a project like this so long and so intensely [if] I didn’t think that it could help save lives.”

House Bill 2395 passed the Oregon House on March 6. It is currently in the Senate Committee on Health Care and was supposed to have a public hearing this week, but it was rescheduled to April 24.

“It’s frustrating because I feel like it’s taken so long to pass this bill, and it continues to take a long time,” Krueger said. “It’s just really frustrating, especially when the opioid epidemic doesn’t stop.”