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This strip of paper can help prevent a drug overdose

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These strips can detect fentanyl, the most lethal drug in the United States, when mixed with other drugs.

Between April 2020 and May 2021, there were more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, the highest number of fatal overdoses in a 12-month period, and nearly two-thirds of those overdoses. involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

The drug is 50 times more potent than heroin and is extremely cheap to produce. It is an effective cutting agent that can stretch a supply of heroin or fake prescription pill juice.

“We have a higher risk of introducing unknown substances into drugs,” said Tanya, 45, who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. He asked CNN not to use his last name to protect his privacy.

Tanya has been using heroin intermittently for the past 20 years, but she says now is the most dangerous time to use it.

“It’s so uncertain,” he says of the drug supply.

“If I change dealerships or receive something from someone I don’t know, I definitely want to try it,” he added.

Fentanyl test strips were first developed as a way to detect people using fentanyl using a urine test, but damage reduction groups found a way to use the strips to help maintain safer supply of medicines.

The strips don’t cost much more than a dollar, can be found on Amazon and are easy to use. The paper strip can be dipped in a solution made by mixing a little drug with water. As with a pregnancy test or a Covid-19 quick test, the strip can show results in minutes: one line means positive for fentanyl, two lines means negative.

Making drug use safer is known as harm reduction. Instead of demanding complete abstinence from people, harm reduction takes mitigation measures such as access to clean needles and the drug naloxone to reverse the overdose to keep drug users safe.

“People don’t want to die”

“Drug users are concerned about their health,” said Louise Vincent, director of the North Carolina Urban Survivors Union, a Greensboro-based harm reduction group. “People don’t want to die … people don’t want to be sick.”

Vincent herself has used it throughout her life and her own daughter died of an overdose in 2016. Keeping those around her has been a priority for her.

1 in 100,000: the story of a fentanyl victim

“Contrary to what everyone says, people who use drugs are human beings and want the same thing that every other human being wants,” Vincent said. he told CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Test trips give users a chance to pause and think about what to wear and how to protect themselves, he said. It’s not enough to say, “I asked the man who was selling it to me or the girl who was selling it to me. They told me it wasn’t fentanyl,” he said.

Now, she says, there’s a way to check it out. “When you know what’s going on, you can make better decisions,” he explained.

Drug control Whether with fentanyl test strips or chemical reagents to test for MDMA, bath salts or LSD, it has been used in Europe since the 1990s and is beginning to find greater practice in the United States.

Last April, the Biden administration allowed the money from the federal grant to be used to buy fentanyl test strips for the first time.

The first overdose prevention centers in the United States open in New York City in an effort to combat overdose deaths
“We must do everything we can to save lives from drug overdoses,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. statement announcing the April release of funding.

“Rising deaths from drug overdoses related to synthetic opioids such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl is a public health crisis that requires immediate action and new strategies. State and local programs now have another tool to add their efforts in the field to reduce and prevent overdoses, in particular fentanyl-related overdose deaths. “

In an epidemic of overdose deaths, quantifying the ability of fentanyl test strips to prevent overdoses can be difficult to analyze. But studies have found that people who use test strips are more likely to do so modify using drugs less often, using them more slowly, or making sure that naloxone is available.

Some people even throw away their medications once a batch is positive.

Covid brought a more dangerous supply of drugs

The pandemic has made drug testing even more vital.

“With Covid came a treacherous and treacherous drug supply,” Vincent said.

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“If you’re doing cocaine, you might want to try your drug to detect fentanyl. If you’re doing, for example, pills you buy on the street, you want to try the fentanyl test strip,” he said.

“What we’ve seen most recently, especially during Covid, are major disruptions to the established cartel supply chain,” said Nabarun Dasgupta, an epidemiologist investigating drug use and infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina. , Chapel Hill. And with those disruptions, he said, he has seen many new chemical synthesis methods used to make what is supposed to be heroin or fentanyl. “We test samples that sometimes have no opioids and sometimes have two or three different types of opioids.”

Dasgupta has partnered with Vincent and his team to make drug testing even more sensitive by using infrared spectroscopy, a tool that can distinguish specific components of the drug. Since they started using the machine this summer, the group has detected sugars as well as large animal sedative xylazine in drugs.

Having this level of specificity gave Vincent and his group the opportunity to warn users of adulterated drugs with xylazine, which can cause serious skin injuries, but also to help prepare health professionals for what they may be dealing with when drug users end up in the ER.

Drug control is giving people autonomy, Dasgupta said. “It’s about making rational decisions about what’s going on in your body,” he said. He compared it to checking a nutrition label on the back of a soda. “It’s the same thing we do when we look at the back of a soda bottle and decide now that I want to go with Diet Coca-Cola this time,” he said.

Dasgupta says these decisions can now help prevent downstream emergencies later on. “If we can help them make better decisions about their health along the way, they may not have to seek that kind of medical care at the end of a very difficult period of their lives,” he said.

Tanya takes every opportunity she can to check her drugs and attributes the fact that she is alive and well. “Is it worth your life? To take a minute, two minutes a little longer? You know, is it worth another person’s life not to take the time to try it?” she asked.

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