Can Fentanyl Test Strips save lives? 

In 2019, fentanyl was found to have contributed to an estimated 51% of all drug overdose deaths in the US. In 2021, drug overdose deaths climbed to nearly 100,000 in the US. Harm reduction strategies such as easy access to naloxone and access and availability of fentanyl test strips are needed now more than ever as the opioid overdose crisis continues to grow. 

A blue and white fentanyl test strip shows two pink lines next to a small round bowl of clear liquid containing the liquid fentanyl.

Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in any drug. Oftentimes fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid sometimes 100 times more powerful than morphine, is mixed in with other unregulated drugs making it much more powerful and deadly. Many times, users are unaware of the presence of fentanyl in their drugs and are consuming it without evening knowing. Because of this, overdosing is bound to happen. 

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Fentanyl test strips can be used on any form of drugs including pills, powders or an injectable form and can detect even the smallest amounts of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. The strips are very sensitive and only a small sample of the drug is needed for the test to work. Created by biotech company BTNX in 2011, FTS are simple, inexpensive at about $1 per strip, and an evidenced-proven method at helping to prevent overdose. With the ever-growing rise in opioid overdose deaths, why aren’t these life-saving tools more widely available and widely used? 

Until now, FTS have only been used and distributed by harm reduction sites, specialized health clinics and through organizations and nonprofits advocating for drug and overdose prevention. Laws and policies surrounding the distribution of drug safety tools vary state by state with no federal standard. This makes finding access to FTS difficult and confusing.

Advocates who are pushing for more usage of this harm-reduction tool say decriminalizing FTS can help reduce the stigma surrounding people who use drugs. Drug usage and drug overdose continue to be highly stigmatized leading to difficulty in accessing life-saving tools and information. These simple-to-use strips also help researchers and behavioral health services more accurately assess how widely spread the fentanyl epidemic really is.

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In recent community studies, research has shown that those who had access to FTS routinely tested their drugs before using them. In a world where their substance addiction may be out of control, these FTS give back some of the power to the user, allowing them to make their own informed judgments and decisions in regard to their own health. Widespread usage will help increase fentanyl awareness dangers and ultimately change users’ risks behaviors, as users are empowered to become their own advocates. With this critical information, users may be more likely to change their habits and behaviors towards drugs preventing overdose and death. This can also lead to users seeking out behavioral health services for their substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Seeking out addiction treatment can be a daunting and difficult decision to make. At Hotel California by the Sea, the expert team of medical physicians, psychiatrists, therapists and clinical staff are there to help make each client’s experience and journey a safe and successful one. The substance use disorder treatment program offers inpatient detox services, gender-specific residential treatment, intensive outpatient services as well as assistance in developing the life skills needed to live independently outside of a treatment center. Hotel California by the Sea specializes in treating clients with co-occurring mental health conditions and aims to create customized treatment plans through unique therapies such as EMDR therapy and marriage and family therapy. 

There are many ways to help prevent substance overdose, where FTS may be the first step in the process until individuals are ready to commit to recovery and living a happy and healthy life without dependence of alcohol and other harmful substances.