Fentanyl, which is 50 times as potent as heroin, laces many batches of heroin and cocaine, and it is now involved in at least half of all opioid overdose deaths. More than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses last year—the equivalent of about three 747 plane crashes each week.
However, there’s evidence that a two-inch fentanyl test strip can help drug users avoid 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.
For a new study in the International Journal of Drug Policy, researchers from RTI International and the University of California, San Francisco, studied 125 heroin users in Greensboro, North Carolina, to see if the test strips, which were distributed through a local needle-exchange program, would change the way the individuals used their drugs. Through an online survey, 81 percent of the drug users reported using the strips, and 63 percent got a positive result for fentanyl. 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.