Testing Strips to Prevent Fentanyl Overdose: Getting Smart or Giving Up?

Strips to Prevent Fentanyl Overdose Being Proposed

Fentanyl overdose has been one of the primary contributors to the alarming and tragic uptick in overall drug-related deaths in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were over 70,000 American Overdose deaths in 2017; these figures included a 45-percent increase in overdoses of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in one year. Very often fentanyl overdose victims succumb to the drug because they fail to realize that the other drugs that they’re taking are laced with it. A new and controversial resource to detect the presence of fentanyl in other drugs aims to cut down on fatality by making users more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies. The tool is a strip that allows users of street drugs like heroin and cocaine to test whether or not the drugs they are taking have been laced with fentanyl.

How Does It Work?

The testing strips are dipped into heroin residue, or mixed with cocaine traces and a small amount of water. One line on the strip suggests that the drugs are positive for fentanyl. The technology was first developed by Canadian biotech company BTNX, but was initially meant to be a urine test. Proponents of the using these strips for the purposes of harm reduction believe that if users know that there’s fentanyl in the drugs they’re taking, they may be less inclined to partake, or at least use smaller doses at a time. Researchers from Johns Hopkins report that the strips were effective in identifying even small amounts of fentanyl in street drugs; however, they don’t identify all types of fentanyl and can produce false negatives.

Will These Strips Aid in Fentanyl Overdose Prevention?

Researchers and clinicians are optimistic that these strips will curtail fentanyl overdose and save lives. They are the latest example in an overall movement toward harm reduction, a philosophy on substance abuse that seeks to diminish fatality while recognizing the reality of drug use. The strips, as well as harm reduction as a whole, has come under fire from various opponents who claim that they just make it easier to use street drugs. Others, including assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for mental Health and substance use, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, claim that people will use the drugs regardless of whether or not fentanyl is present.