Strips that can test for fentanyl touted for overdose-reduction potential

Strips that can test for fentanyl touted for overdose-reduction potential
The test strips are produced by a Canadian company called BTNX. (Source: BTNX)

(Gray News) – A Canadian company is offering strips that can detect fentanyl, and they’re touting its benefits for users of drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid, as much as 100 times more powerful than morphine, and has been at the center of the opioid crisis.

Street drugs have been known to be laced with it, making overdose an even greater risk.

The strips, made by BTNX, were designed “for the qualitative detection of fentanyl … in urine,” according to company materials, but work just the same when applied to liquid forms of heroin or cocaine mixed with a splash of water.

According to a study on the strips, 84 percent of drug users polled “were concerned that the drugs they use contain fentanyl” and 70 percent “reported that knowing that their drugs contained fentanyl would lead them to modify their behavior.”

“We are at a pivotal moment in the overdose epidemic, and we need to embrace the full range of interventions that can save lives,” said Susan Sherman, a co-author of the study, in a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health press release.

The study surveyed 335 drug users in three Northeast cities.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2017. Almost 30,000 of those deaths were due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Just five years ago, there were fewer than 5,000 overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids.

The strips haven’t been embraced by all, however.

Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, a Trump administration health official, has written that she worries the strips could actually be used by drug users to seek fentanyl out, “which might be able to give them the high that their current opioid no longer gives them – and which will place them at risk for overdose or death.”

“Is it our goal simply to stop people from dying so they can continue a life of ‘safe’ heroin use? Or should our goal be different?” she wrote on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

Still, the study, which also interviewed people at organizations that work with drug addicts, said that the professionals at those organizations “overwhelmingly support drug checking services in order to provide people who use drugs with more information to keep themselves safe, and to provide another potential point of engagement to help those people access services.”

“Smart strategies that reduce harm can save lives,” said Sherman.

The tests produce a positive or negative after five minutes, as shown by one line for positive and two for negative.

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