I Don’t Believe a Person Has to Die When Trying to Get High: Overdose Prevention and Response Strategies in Rural Illinois

Suzan M. Walters, Marisa Felsher, David Frank, Jessica Jaiswal, Tarlise Townsend, Brandon Muncan, Alex S. Bennett, Samuel R. Friedman, Wiley Jenkins, Mai T. Pho, Scott Fletcher, Danielle C. Ompad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Overdose is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among people who inject drugs. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is now a major driver of opioid overdose deaths. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 participants (19 persons who inject drugs and 4 service providers) from rural southern Illinois. Data were analyzed using constant comparison and theoretical sampling methods. Results: Participants were concerned about the growing presence of fentanyl in both opioids and stimulants, and many disclosed overdose experiences. Strategies participants reported using to lower overdose risk included purchasing drugs from trusted sellers and modifying drug use practices by partially injecting and/or changing the route of transmission. Approximately half of persons who inject drugs sampled had heard of fentanyl test strips, however fentanyl test strip use was low. To reverse overdoses, participants reported using cold water baths. Use of naloxone to reverse overdose was low. Barriers to naloxone access and use included fear of arrest and opioid withdrawal. Conclusions: People who inject drugs understood fentanyl to be a potential contaminant in their drug supply and actively engaged in harm reduction techniques to try to prevent overdose. Interventions to increase harm reduction education and information about and access to fentanyl test strips and naloxone would be beneficial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1648
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • fentanyl
  • harm reduction
  • overdose
  • people who inject drugs
  • polydrug use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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