OPINION: Test strips bring awareness to fentanyl-laced drugs

By Miguel Barragan

The public should be aware of the lethal substance fentanyl that is found in drug batches all across the globe.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is estimated to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine even in tiny doses. Two milligrams of the substance is enough to kill most people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there were nearly 30,000 overdose deaths in 2017 involving synthetic opiates, primarily fentanyl and fentanyl analogs. This is a rise of 10,000 deaths when compared to 2016.

There is also a significant rise in cocaine related deaths, from more than 10,000 deaths in 2016 to almost 15,000 the following year.

The rise is due to an increase in fentanyl found in cocaine.

New York City officials say fentanyl was detected in 37 percent of cocaine-related deaths in 2016, triple the percent of the previous year.

Several fentanyl-laced cocaine related deaths have occured in Southern California in the past few months.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s website, San Diego’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Glenn Wagner said, “Now we’re seeing an emerging pattern of cases where fentanyl is unexpectedly added to other drug combinations. It’s a new, deeply concerning trend.”

Experts aren’t exactly sure why fentanyl is being found in cocaine.

Some think dealers are purposefully adding fentanyl to their cocaine supply to cut corners.

Others say this would be a dumb business move by drug dealers because it would quickly kill off their customers who are not able to handle the amount of lethal fentanyl in their drugs.

A more plausible theory, however, is that heroin dealers lacing their supply with fentanyl are accidentally contaminating their cocaine supply with the same fentanyl.

Whatever the case may be, users are at danger when using drugs like heroin, cocaine, meth, and other illicit drugs.

This is why precautions should be taken to help reduce harm to those that choose to take these drugs.

Drug users now have ways of testing for fentanyl.

Fentanyl test strips were originally introduced to test the urine of patients prescribed fentanyl.

This was to avoid prescribing to patients who don’t use the fentanyl they’re prescribed and sell it.

Canada-based biotechnology company BTNX Inc. is the main distributor of the fentanyl test strips that allow for users to test their drugs.

The way to use the strips is to mix the drugs with a little bit of water then dip it in the strip for a few seconds and wait for five minutes for the result. If positive for fentanyl, one red line will appear. If negative, two red lines will appear. If invalid, no color will show.

The test strips have been criticized for not being precise about the amount of fentanyl found in the drugs, however, Dr. Peter Davidson, UC San Diego medical sociologist who studies opioid overdose prevention said, “They might be a little bit on the sensitive side … but from a practical point of view, it’s better to have a drug user exercising caution.”

RTI International conducted a survey that tracked and analyzed the usage of fentanyl test strips by 125 drug users.

The researchers found that users who tested positive for fentanyl in their drugs were five times more likely to take precautions against the harm of fentanyl.

Some users took a smaller dosage than normal.

Some users chose to snort instead of injecting so that not as much of the drug enters the bloodstream.

Although the test strips aren’t 100 percent effective at keeping fentanyl off the streets, it’s a step in the right direction.

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