TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — There’s been a lot of reaction on social media to the news that a 21 year-old University of Alabama student was arrested, Thursday, on drug charges–including trafficking fentanyl. According to a university spokesperson, Ashley Newman has been placed on interim suspension. Friday evening, she remained in the Tuscaloosa County Jail on over a million dollar bond.
Drug education experts tell CBS 42–there’s a reason the charges against Newman are so severe. There’s also a reason they aren’t surprised about the arrest of a young, female college student–like many other people have expressed online.
“It’s a complete community issue that goes across all barriers and doesn’t care who you are,” explained PRIDE of Tuscaloosa Executive Director Derek Osborn. “We’re not shocked as a lot of the community will be that this is happening. We’ve known that it’s on campus. We’ve known that it’s not just on campus–that it’s around our city and our community. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to bring awareness to it.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate–that some have called a “fatal cousin of heroin”. According to Osborn, depending on the potency of the drug it can be anywhere between 5 to 80 times more powerful than heroin.
“Typically it’s being used right now to lace heroin,” he said. “Like by bumping up a bad product. But you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get…to the point that it’s actually causing multiple overdoses.”
In recent years, heroin overdoses involving students have made headlines in Tuscaloosa County. Benjamin Tyler Wells, 30, was a Tuscaloosa native and student at Wallace State who died as the result of a drug overdose in March.
“He was going to school to be a drug counselor,” said his best friend, J.J. Snow. “He had been making A’s and B’s. He had one lapse. He had a shot of heroin that was coated with fentanyl, and it killed him. We have the toxicology report. We know that fentanyl killed him.”
Snow described her friend as an amazing person. Tyler was a musician, dancer, and baseball player. Snow said he wanted to get help, and had been to several rehabs.
She has now started the Benjamin Tyler Wells Foundation. Snow said her goal is to move in the direction of better treatment and care for addicts, and to see every first responder carrying Naloxone. However, she has has strong feelings about cases like Newman’s.
“If she’s convicted, she had–what the people who are killing people with–in her possession,” she said. “That’s fentanyl — and that’s all that I need to know.”
Osborn and Snow agree — its important for students and parents to understand that these drugs are present in the community. “There’s not a road map that tells you how to cure it and stop it,” said Osborn. “There’s only a community that can come together and be aware of the situation.”