Photo of a person spraying naloxone.

While rates of illicit drug use remain low at CU Boulder, the presence of fentanyl in Colorado and across the U.S. has compounded an already dire opioid crisis. The Denver Department for Public Health and Environment reported 228 fatal overdoses, 146 involving fentanyl, in the first half of 2023 alone, representing a 16% increase over previous years.  

Substance use, overdoses and fentanyl poisoning often carry stigma that makes these issues challenging to address. However, CU Boulder recognizes the immense toll they continue to take on individuals, families and communities. That is why Health & Wellness Services has made it a priority to engage community organizations and create comprehensive, evidence-based programs aimed at educating and equipping students, families, staff and faculty to respond to the ongoing crisis. 

Health & Wellness programs use an evidence-based harm reduction approach that incorporates a variety of strategies to address substance use, misuse and addiction disorders. These measures promote safety for those that use, access to recovery services and overdose education that can help reduce the number of fatal and non-fatal overdoses. Together, the following harm reduction efforts are intended to save lives, empower individuals to respond in emergency situations and address factors that may contribute to susbtance misuse. 

Early intervention programs 

CU Boulder’s Health Promotion office provides a variety of early intervention programs aimed at helping students better understand substance use and signs of misuse. These programs provide structured environments that allow students to reflect on their relationship with substances, identify potentially harmful behaviors, learn harm reduction strategies and connect with support resources as needed. Workshops allow students, staff and faculty to engage with trained peers or professional staff.  

The peer-led program, Buffs Discuss Substance Use, has been offered for several years. This free drop-in program connects students with trained undergraduate students at various campus locations to discuss substance use habits and how it may be impacting them at CU Boulder. During the 2022-23 academic year, 689 students attended a Buffs Discuss Susbtance Use peer-led workshop. 

Naloxone distribution 

While CU Boulder has seen few incidents related to fentanyl, we understand that overdose incidents have had significant impacts to those involved on and off campus.Health Promotion has worked over the past several years to increase access to naloxone, a life-saving drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. Recent changes to legislation and over-the-counter designations have provided our campus with an opportunity to increase distribution on campus and in the community. Health Promotion has also helped promote the use of fentanyl test strips, which can detect fentanyl in a variety of substances, including counterfeit prescriptions. 

During the 2022-23 academic year, Health Promotion distributed 2,675 fentanyl test strips and 944 boxes of naloxone (equivalent to 1,888 doses). The success of this program was led, in part, by the expansion of Health Promotion’s Buff Box program, which allows students to order free health supplies delivered directly to their residence hall. During spring 2023, the team introduced a new Safer Night Out Buff Box to provide students with free fentanyl test strips, naloxone and educational information about overdose prevention. During the spring semester, Health Promotion delivered 321 Safer Night out boxes to students living on campus. The additional doses of naloxone have been distributed directly through Health Promotion’s office, which is open to all CU Boulder community members. 

Community engagement 

In addition to campus-driven programs, CU Boulder works alongside a variety of agencies and organizations across Boulder County, including Boulder County Public Health, the Substance Use Advisory Group, local law enforcement agencies and local organizations. These larger community partnerships allow our campus to share information, mobilize resources, provide timely communications and effectively respond to drug-related concerns and emergencies on and off campus. 


In the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2021, 25.6% of young adults aged 18 to 25 reported having a substance use disorder (SUD). CU Boulder is committed to supporting those who struggle with substance use through supportive, recovery-focused services that ensure our campus community can thrive. 

The Collegiate Recovery Community (CUCRC) on campus provides community, support and connection for students, faculty and staff in recovery or seeking recovery from a wide range of behaviors, including substance use and abuse. They provide a variety of recovery-focused programs, including support meetings, community meetings, substance-free social events, acudetox, recovery-focused sober housing and more. The CUCRC has had over 2,500 interactions with students, staff and faculty throughout the 2022-23 academic year. 

Plans for the 2023-24 academic year 

Health Promotion and CU Boulder plan to continue efforts related to overdose prevention by prioritizing access to naloxone, early intervention programs, recovery support, training opportunities and campus education. By employing and expanding these programs, we hope to provide broader support for students, staff and faculty members for years to come.