Harm Reduction Organizations Offering Fentanyl Testing Strips
Testing strips that were originally intended for doctors to determine if their patients were taking their pain medications are now being used as a prevention tool for a drug overdose. The simple test can detect the presence of a fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than heroin. In the past five years, opioid overdoses have skyrocketed, largely due to drug supplies being laced with this fatal chemical.Now, these Harm Reduction programs are on the front lines in the battle against addiction.
What is Fentanyl?
Discovered in 1959, fentanyl is a highly-addictive synthetic alternative to morphine intended to treat pain in the terminally ill and chronically diseased. In the 1980’s, chemists altered the chemical makeup of fentanyl and created a highly toxic and potentially lethal product often referred to as “China White”. Mixing fentanyl with heroin amplifies the potency of both drugs. Once injected, smoked, or snorted, the heroin creates a frighteningly powerful high. Although some dealers are aware of the chemical being laced in their product, not all do. More often, the users are completely unaware and it as it is difficult to detect with the naked eye.
The New Crisis
Fentanyl has become an epidemic on its own; once a minor player in the opioid crisis, it is now the leading cause of fatal opioid overdose. It is linked to thousands of deaths nationwide, particularly in urban areas. Intended to be used in extremely small doses for terminal illness and chronic pain, Fentanyl has made its way to the black market with no regulations. County Health Departments in 24 major cities reported a 600% increase in Fentanyl related deaths between 2014 and 2016. Law enforcement and health organizations are fearful of the rate at which Fentanyl is infiltrating into drug supplies. Philadelphia has taken one of the largest hits, experiencing 100 overdose deaths a month in 2017 so far. DEA special agent Patrick Trainor said, “The trend is not going to change, unfortunately” adding that Fentanyl use has “thrown gasoline onto a fire that was already raging”. Other states and major cities are catching up, and medical professionals have been unable to find an option comparable to naloxone that’s strong enough to reverse the effects of a Fentanyl overdose.
Signs of a Fentanyl overdose may vary from patient to patient but could include:
- Labored or shallow breathing
- Small pupils
- Blue Skin
- Cold and clammy skin
- Extreme fatigue and sleepiness
- Inability to talk or walk normally
- Fainting, and dizziness.
Fighting Overdose With Testing Strips
In response to the rising death toll, drug users now have access to testing strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl in its various forms. There are a few companies offering testing strip kits, but the most effective have shown to be a biotech company, BTNX, whose strips detect the most out of all other kits. The test is based on antibodies that specifically bind to fentanyl. “As the sample runs up the membrane, it binds to the dye in the strip and then gives you a visual read out in a similar way a pregnancy test does,” said David Campbell, a business partner of BTNX. The testing kits aren’t able to detect every antibody that binds to fentanyl, but drug users are being advised to always test their drugs to lower the chances of overdose or cross contamination.
Iqbal Sunderani, President of BTNX says the company is, “working on developing the test further to see if we can pick up some analogs of fentanyl”. The challenge is staying ahead of the curve as fentanyl progresses and analogs become unidentifiable. Information on overdose reduction from using the kits is not yet available, but users have reported instances of the testing strips saving them from fatal drug use.
BTNX advises the strips be used in a medical setting, but many organizations are giving them out to users and they have become more readily available online. Medical professionals advise users to practice safe use, be cautious even if the test is negative, and always have naloxone in case of an emergency.
Costs and Availability
Although the strips are not yet approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration, they have been approved by a comparable administration in Canada and Internationally. The average price is about 5 dollars per strip, which is expected to decrease once manufacturing for the strips inflates. There are cheaper options such as manufacturing companies in China, but they have shown to be much less effective. The BTNX test strips currently test for carfentanyl acetyl-fentanyl, butyryl-fentanyl, and 3-methyl-fentanyl. Although they were originally intended for urine testing, pills can also be effectively testing by mixing them with a small amount of water.
DanceSafe, a harm reduction organization, has recently made the testing kits available online at https://dancesafe.org/shop/ .The kits are purchasable separately or in a bundle for a higher cost.
These strips are not intended to make opioid use safe, but to lower the risk of instant fatality. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, take the first step to sobriety and call 866-200-3224 or visit our website at www.elevationshealth.com