The fight against opioid overdose deaths has a new controversial tool. Strips that allow drug users to test whether heroin and cocaine are laced with fentanyl.
The idea behind the strips is that drug users may choose not to use the drugs or use less of them if they test positive for fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, is the deadliest drug in America, linked to nearly 29% of all overdose deaths in 2016 according to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fentanyl test strips were originally developed to test urine samples for the presence of the drug, but the strips work basically the same way when they're dipped in the residue of cooked heroin or when a little water is added to empty baggies of cocaine.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Brown University determined that the test strips detected even low concentrations of fentanyl in street drugs.
"Our findings bring to the table evidence that can inform a public health approach to the fentanyl crisis. Smart strategies that reduce harm can save lives," Susan Sherman, a co-author on the study, said.
Programs in the United States that distribute clean syringes to people who use drugs have started to distribute fentanyl test strips also, according to the study.
The strips aren't perfect though. They do have a chance of a false negative with some forms of fentanyl and they do not let users know how much fentanyl the drugs contain.
"We are at a pivotal moment in the overdose epidemic, and we need to embrace the full range of interventions that can save lives," Sherman said.
Others believe that the strips may act as a method for users to seek out fentanyl for a stronger high, and a large shadow of doubt is cast over the effectiveness of the strips to actually change a user's mind about using the drugs they have.
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