Researchers: Fentanyl Test Strips Can Change Drug Users’ Behaviors, Prevent OD’s

Nearly 72,000 overdoses took place last year in the US, and experts say that many of these were due to street drugs being tainted with fentanyl, which is nearly 100 times stronger than heroin. And now, a Brown University study aimed at stopping overdoses found that young adults using fentanyl test strips were able to reduce their overdose risk. The fast-acting fentanyl test strips helped young people with opioid use disorder make better decisions about what, and how, they used illicit drugs.

This isn’t to say that the users discarded the drugs when they found that fentanyl was present. Only a few research participants avoided the drugs laced with fentanyl completely. For most of the other drug users, they “reduced overdose risk by using less, going slower or using with someone else present.”

“Test strips could be a lifesaving intervention for many young adults who use drugs,” said study leader Brandon Marshall.

Most participants were happy to use the test strips, which are not currently available for sale or use in any capacity.

93 drug users were given 10 test strips each to use whenever they wanted. They were also given a quick education in preventing overdoses and a kit with the opioid antagonist drug, naloxone. (Naloxone is a drug that can reverse overdoses in opiate users.) About eight in 10 participants used at least one test strip, and 12% used all of them. Some people also chose to share the strips with their friends.

The results were eye-opening: almost 50% of the drugs tested contained fentanyl. When faced with these results, drug users also became more careful with their drug use. 40% of the participants reported making changes to their drug use because of the study.

“We found that fentanyl test strips are an effective harm-reduction tool to prevent overdose,” said Marshall, an associate professor of epidemiology in Brown’s School of Public Health.”Harm reduction is important because everyone deserves to be able to take care of themselves and make informed decisions about their health, whether they use drugs or not.”