Featured News: Young Adults Willing to Test Drugs for Presence of Fentanyl: Study

fentanyl pills

Most young adults who use illicit drugs are willing to test them for the presence of fentanyl by using a rapid test strip, a study presented at the recent American Society of Addiction Medicine annual meeting suggests.

The test strips, which are similar to urine or pregnancy test strips, are designed to detect fentanyl in urine after a person has used the drug. However, researchers realized they can be used to test drugs for the presence of fentanyl before a person takes them.

“You can take a tiny sample of the drug and dissolve it in water, and use the test strip to detect the presence of fentanyl,” said lead researcher Brandon Marshall, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology at Brown University in Providence, RI. The strips are not commercially available in the United States, but some organizations have been buying the test strips directly from the manufacturer in Canada and distributing them for this purpose.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have overtaken prescription opioids as the most common drug involved in fatal drug overdoses in the United States.

Synthetic opioid overdose deaths among young adults has risen more than 300 percent in the United States since 2013, primarily due to the contamination of heroin and other drugs with illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

The new study included 93 young adults who use drugs in Rhode Island, more than one-third of whom had a prior overdose. They were asked about their willingness to use take-home rapid test strips to detect fentanyl contamination in drugs. They were then trained to use the test strips and were given 10 to take home.

The researchers found 92 percent of participants wanted to know if there was fentanyl in their drug supply prior to their use, whether or not they had overdosed before. Seventy percent reported concern that their drugs were contaminated with fentanyl. After the brief training, 95 percent said they planned to use the test strips.

The researchers interviewed participants and found many were surprised the drugs they planned on taking contained fentanyl, Marshall said. “We found that by far, young people know about fentanyl and the risks associated with taking it, and would like to avoid using it,” he said. “Some people said once they knew drugs contained fentanyl, they disposed of them, or made sure to have someone with them to call 911 or administer naloxone if they overdosed,” he said. “We’re still analyzing the results, but that is an indication that a positive test strip could lead to positive behavior changes.”

Marshall and colleagues are now following up with participants to determine whether, how and under what circumstances participants used the rapid test strips and if a positive result contributed to changes in overdose risk behavior.

Larger studies are needed to determine if distributing fentanyl test strips can play a role in reducing overdoses, Marshall said. “What we found is promising,” he added. “People are looking closely for tools we can use to reduce overdoses, and this might be one such tool.”

The study was funded by the Brown University Office of the Vice President for Research.

How Can I Protect My Child from Fentanyl? 5 Things Parents Need to Know

Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids (not including methadone), rose a staggering 72 percent in just one year, from 2014 to 2015. Government agencies and officials of all types are rightly concerned by what some are describing as the third wave of our ongoing opioid epidemic.

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