Fentanyl test: This strip of paper can help prevent medication overdose

These strips can detect fentanyl, the deadliest drug in the United States, when mixed with other drugs.

Between April 2020 and May 2021 there were more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, the highest number of fatal overdoses in a 12 month period, and nearly two-thirds of those overdoses were in synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

The drug is 50 times stronger than heroin and extremely cheap to manufacture. It’s a powerful cutting agent that can expand a heroin supply or juicing counterfeit prescription pills.

“We’re at a greater risk of unknown substances being included in the drugs,” said Tanya, 45, who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. She asked CNN not to use her last name to protect her privacy.

Tanya has been using heroin intermittently for 20 years, but she says now is the most dangerous time to use it.

“It’s so uncertain,” she says of the drug supply.

“If I change dealers or get something from someone I don’t know, I definitely want to get it tested,” she added.

Fentanyl test strips were first designed to help screen people using fentanyl by testing their urine, but harm control groups found a way to use the strips to make drug supplies safer.

The strips don’t cost much more than a dollar, can be found on Amazon, and are easy to use. The paper strip can be dipped in a solution made by mixing some medicine with water. As with a pregnancy or Covid-19 rapid test, the strip can show results within minutes: one line means positive for fentanyl, two lines negative.

Making drug use safer is known as harm reduction. Rather than demanding total abstinence from people, Harm Reduction takes harm reduction measures, such as access to clean needles and the overdose reversal drug naloxone, to keep drug users safe.

“People don’t want to die”

“Drug users care about their health,” said Louise Vincent, director of the North Carolina Urban Survivors Union, a harm reduction group based in Greensboro. “People don’t want to die … people don’t want to be sick.”

Vincent himself drank from it all her life and her own daughter died of an overdose in 2016. The safety of those around her was a priority.

“Contrary to everything everyone is saying, people who use drugs are people and want what all other people want,” says Vincent said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

The test drives give users a chance to pause and think about what they are using and how to protect themselves, she said. It’s not enough to say, “‘I asked the guy who sold it to me or the girl who sold it to me. They said it wasn’t fentanyl,'” she said.

Now, she says, there is some way of checking that. “When you know what is happening, you can make better decisions,” she explained.

Drug checking – whether with fentanyl test strips or chemical reagents to test for MDMA, bath salts or LSD – has been used in Europe since the 1990s and is increasingly being used in the USA.

Last April, the Biden administration first allowed federal grants to be used to purchase fentanyl test strips.

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“We must do everything we can to save lives from drug overdoses,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement announcing the release of funding in April.

“The rise in drug overdose deaths associated with synthetic opioids such as illegally manufactured fentanyl is a public health crisis that requires immediate action and new strategies. State and local programs now have yet another tool to expand their local efforts to reduce and prevent overdoses, particularly fentanyl-related deaths. “

In an epidemic of Overdose deaths, quantifying fentanyl test strips’ ability to prevent overdose, can be difficult to analyze. However, studies have shown that people who use test strips are more likely to change their drug use by using less, more slowly, or making sure naloxone is available.

Some people even throw away their medication altogether if a batch tests positive.

Covid has brought a more dangerous supply of drugs

The pandemic has made drug testing even more important.

“With Covid came an insidious, insidious drug supply,” Vincent said.

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“If you use cocaine, you may want to test your medication for fentanyl. For example, if you take pills that you buy on the street, you want to test on the fentanyl test strip, ”she said.

“What we’ve seen lately, especially during Covid, are major disruptions in the supply chain of the mainstream cartels,” said Nabarun Dasgupta, an epidemiologist researching drug use and infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And with these disorders, he said, he saw many new chemical synthesis methods used to make heroin or fentanyl. “We test samples that sometimes don’t contain an opioid and sometimes two or three different types of opioids.”

Dasgupta has teamed up with Vincent and her group to make drug screening even more sensitive using infrared spectroscopy, a tool used to differentiate between certain drug components. Since putting the machine into operation in the summer, the group has detected sugar and the sedative xylazine for large animals in Drugs.

With this level of specificity, Vincent and her group had the ability to warn users about xylazine-adulterated drugs that can cause severe skin wounds, but also to prepare healthcare professionals for what to do when drug users get into the ER.

Drug controls give people autonomy, Dasgupta said. “It’s about making rational decisions about what’s going on in your body,” he said. He compared it to checking a nutrition label on the back of a soft drink. “It’s the same thing we do when we look at the back of a soda bottle and decide I want to take the Diet Coke this time,” he said.

Dasgupta says these decisions can now help avoid emergencies later. “If we can help them make better health decisions all the way down the road, they may not need this type of health care at the end of a very difficult time in life,” he said.

Tanya takes every opportunity to review her drugs and credits the strips with keeping her alive. “Is it worth your life? A minute, two minutes longer? You know, is it worth someone else’s life not to take the time to test it? ”She asked.

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