With fentanyl-related deaths on the rise in California – estimates indicate they have nearly trebled between 2016 and 2017 – officials have come up with a novel idea to ensure the drug users’ safety. California’s public health department is now paying for users to test their drugs for fentanyl. The program began in May 2017, when the department started paying for needle exchanges and for distributing fentanyl strips to drug users for testing the presence of fentanyl in the drug. So instead of testing the user’s exposure to the drug, the drug itself was tested for the presence of fentanyl. The state has so far paid $57,000 to half of its 45 needle exchange programs.
The strips are available for a dollar each and can be easily used. The user needs to mix a little of the sample drug in water and then dip the strip in the mixture for a few seconds. A single line on the strip would indicate the presence of fentanyl, while two lines would mean that the sample does not contain fentanyl. According to Michael Marquesen, executive director of the needle exchange program at the Los Angeles Community Health Project, tests have revealed that a major chunk of the heroin in circulation in Hollywood is adulterated with fentanyl. So when he handed out the strips to drug users in the needle exchange program, he warned them about the dangers of fentanyl use and taught them to use naloxone, an opioid antagonist, in case of an overdose.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in its use, as it is found in heroin, cocaine and meth, and pressed into counterfeit prescription drugs, MDMA and other illicit drugs available in the form of pills. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has pointed out that fentanyl and associated analogues were responsible for more than half of the opioid overdose deaths in 10 states in the second half of 2016, and the numbers are only expected to rise in 2017.
Effectiveness of test strips questioned
As per reports, fentanyl test strips are popular and many needle exchange programs have started distributing these to drug users who come to the program. However, many believe that the test strips should not just be limited to needle exchange programs. Dr. Gary Tsai, medical director, Substance Abuse Prevention and Control, a division of the Los Angeles County’s public health department, is worried about its efficacy. He is scared that it could give a false positive and therefore, reassure the user that nothing was wrong with the drug sample.
The tests were primarily designed for “pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl” and its competence to test street fentanyl was doubtful, he said. Further, the fentanyl test strip was manufactured initially to test fentanyl in patients’ urine, and has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for testing drugs directly.
Though the effectiveness of the strips has been questioned, a recent study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University found that compared to the other means of detecting fentanyl in drugs, the test strips proved to be 100 percent effective. The study also found that 70 percent people avoided their vendors or refrained from using the drug, if fentanyl was found in it.
Seeking treatment for addiction
An addiction to any drug is dangerous and can increase the risks of an overdose and death. However, with proper medical attention and the right combination of medications, counselling and alternative therapies, it is possible to find long-lasting cure.
Sovereign Health, the leading substance abuse treatment provider in the U.S., offers comprehensive treatment for fentanyl abuse. Depending on the severity and duration of drug use, our experts design an effective fentanyl drug abuse treatment program to ensure lasting recovery. Get in touch with our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our medical representatives for further information on our fentanyl drug abuse treatment centers spread across the country.