Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Abadie Harm Reduction Journal (2023) 20:75


Open access.


Background Fentanyl and fentanyl-related analogues are the main drivers of overdose death in the USA, particularly among people who inject drugs (PWID). Despite the fact that non-Hispanic whites exhibit higher population rates of synthetic opioid mortality, overdose deaths have increased among African American and Latinos in urban areas. Yet little attention has been paid to the introduction of fentanyl among rural PWID in Puerto Rico.

Methods We conducted N = 38 in-depth interviews with PWID in rural Puerto Rico to document participants’ experiences of injection drug use after the arrival of fentanyl and the strategies they implemented to manage overdose death risks.

Results Participants suggest that the arrival of fentanyl in large scale happened after Hurricane Maria in 2017; this coincided with a dramatic increase in overdose episodes and deaths. Fear of overdose deaths motivated some participants to substitute intravenous drug use for other forms of substance use or to seek MOUD. PWID that continued injection use resorted to conducting “hit tests,” avoiding injecting alone, using naloxone, and employing fentanyl testing strips.

Conclusions While overdose deaths would have been higher without participants’ willingness to adopt harm-reduction strategies, this paper illustrates the limits of these policies to address the current epidemic of fentanyl-related overdose deaths among this population. More studies are needed to understand how health disparities shape overdose risks for minority populations. However, major policy changes, in particular the revision of the harmful role of the War on Drugs and the termination of failed neoliberal economic policies that contribute to deaths of despair, should be addressed if we are to make a dent in this epidemic.