Monday, October 08, 2018

Fentanyl test strips might be next big tool in opioid fight

Fentanyl has been a growing factor in the opioid crisis in recent years: drug dealers sometimes lace their product with the inexpensive drug to stretch their supply (and profits) further, but fentanyl is so potent that it's easy to use too much and cause overdoses. Fentanyl is now involved in at least half of all opioid deaths, but a $1 test strip for the potent drug may help drug users from overdosing.

"When dipped into a drug, the strip reveals—with the presence, or absence, of a red line—whether that drug contains fentanyl. Researchers suspect that if more drug users had access to the strips, they could test their drugs and use less, or possibly not use them at all," Olga Khazan reports for The Atlantic.

Researchers studied 125 heroin users in Greensboro, N.C., to see if distributing the test strips through a needle-exchange program would reduce overdoses. "Through an online survey, 81 percent of the drug users reported using the strips, and 63 percent got a positive result for fentanyl," Khazan reports. "Those who saw the positive result were five times as likely to change the way they used a drug in an effort to avoid overdosing. They might have used less than usual, for example, or snorted it instead of injecting it, which results in less of the drug being absorbed into the bloodstream." A few cities have started providing the strips along with clean needles at exchanges.

Like clean needles, naloxone distribution, and safe shoot-up spots, the test strips are meant not to prevent drug addiction but to make it safer for addicts. Local laws that prohibit drug paraphernalia could prevent the test strips from being used more widely though. Some communities have rewritten such laws to exclude clean needles, but the laws might still apply to test strips.

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