Can $1 Fentanyl Test Strip Reduce Deaths Among Opioid Users?

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Photo by iPredator via Flickr

A test strip to help battle the opioid epidemic works like a pregnancy test to detect fentanyl, the potent substance behind the escalating number of deaths around the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports.

The strip, designed for the medical profession to test urine, can be used off-label by heroin and cocaine users who fear their drugs have been adulterated with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The strips are dipped in water containing a minute amount of a drug and generally provide a result within a minute—with one line indicating positive for fentanyl, and two lines negative.

Overdose-prevention organizations started handing out fentanyl test strips about two years ago, and they caught on quickly. Now, states like California and Rhode Island and cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Columbus, Oh., are distributing them, or plan to soon.

“This is an effective way to have people thinking about risks,” said Louise Vincent,  the advocacy group Urban Survivors Union in Greensboro, N.C., which has been distributing strips since last year. “It’s so important to give people as many tools as we can.”

Elinore McCance-Katz of the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said the approach relies on the flawed premise that drug users make rational choices. She said the strips aren’t guaranteed to be accurate.

“We can’t afford to create a false sense of security” for users, says McCance-Katz. “Let’s not rationalize putting tools in place to help them continue their lifestyle more ‘safely.’ ”

Studies published this year suggest test strips could alter drug users’ behavior. Many advocacy organizations use fentanyl test strips made by Canadian biotechnology company BTNX Inc., whose sales have soared in the U.S., reaching 766,000 strips this year, compared with 117,000 in 2017. The cost: $1 each.

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