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Oxford Police Count 18 Fentanyl Overdoses, Four Deaths This Year

School of Journalism & New Media student Julieanna Jackson explores the fentanyl crisis in Oxford.

So far this year in Oxford, 18 people have overdosed on fentanyl, and four have died, according to the Oxford Police Department. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug creating a dangerous situation, especially among young adults and on college campuses.

“It is easier to buy illegal drugs in the city of Oxford than it is to go buy a case of beer,” Ole Miss Interfraternity Council President Ashton Health said. “So, I think that that has led to a bit of the pressure of drug abuse.”

The university has lost more than one student to fentanyl over the years. On April 14, 2022, 21-year-old Thomas Hayes Mayo died of an accidental overdose. Thomas was an Oxford native and a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

“Thomas was truly a unique person, and, in all honesty, this probably contributed to his death in some ways,” said his father, Cal Mayo. “Because Thomas, he had a heart; his cousin described him as  whatever space he occupied, he wanted you in this space with him.”

Cal Mayo and his son Thomas. Photo contributed by the Mayo Family.

On the night of his death, Thomas decided to take some pills with friends; they all split the same pills and ingested the same products. The pills were laced with fentanyl.

“Thomas got the pieces of the pills that had enough fentanyl to kill him. He did not survive, and so it is random. It is really strong. It is cheap to make. And it is very addictive,” Cal said.

The Oxford Police Department has repeatedly issued warnings about the rise of fentanyl in the city through social media campaigns, distributing drink covers to bars on the Square and offering education on the usage of Narcan. 

“Nowadays, you cannot take anything. I mean, off the street. Everything we have seen is coke laced with fentanyl. Some THC-laced fentanyl, Xanax bars laced with fentanyl—they are putting fentanyl in everything now. It is not like it was 10-15 years ago,” said Oxford narcotics Officer Aric Stratton.

Stratton said signs of a fentanyl overdose include noticing a person acting unusually sleepy or going to sleep, having shallow breathing or having a faint heartbeat. If anyone notices these signs, they should call 911 immediately and administer Narcan, if accessible.

Stratton says young adults are at high risk for substance abuse and that the smallest amount of fentanyl is often deadly.

“We cannot take anything that a doctor does not prescribe,” Stratton said.

In response to Thomas’s death, the Mayo family created the Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab in partnership with the William Magee Center and a podcast, now in its second season, to help educate others on the dangers of drug abuse and fentanyl.

“The William McGee Center serves students on campus; the lab is helping other people understand what is going on in the recreational drug world,” said Cal.

Cal said his son had told them about his addiction to Xanax and was seeking help before he died. A year before his death, Thomas spent 30 days at a rehabilitation center and had come back, seemingly free of addiction. Cal says parents should start having open conversations about drugs with their children and look for the signs of drug use—a message the Mayos are now devoted to sharing.

“If only one person is positively impacted, then we are even, right? We have gained a life back we might have lost, and every other person after that is a win,” Cal said.

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