Many substances in the U.S. are laced with fentanyl, a very powerful synthetic opioid painkiller. Fentanyl can be cut into heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and counterfeit pills with brand names like Vicodin, Oxycontin, Adderall and Xanax. People who use substances are at a high risk of overdose if they unknowingly consume fentanyl or take it in larger amounts than they are used to.
In addition to naloxone (e.g., Narcan), fentanyl test strips are a proven way to help reduce overdoses and death as a result of fentanyl. Using them may save your loved one’s life.
Fentanyl test strips are paper strips used to detect the presence of fentanyl in injectable substances, powders, and pills. The tests also check for many variations of fentanyl known as analogs.
They were originally designed to check urine for fentanyl, but harm reduction advocates found that the tests could work when a little bit of the product was mixed with water.
Test strips are convenient and easy to use, taking just a few minutes to get results.
A small amount of the heroin, cocaine or other substance one wishes to test, about the size of half a grain of rice, is dissolved in as little as 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of water. The amount of water needed depends on the specific drug being tested.
The test strip is placed in the solution for about 10 seconds and then set aside to develop.
Results will appear within a few minutes. One line appearing on the test strip indicates a positive result – fentanyl is present. Two lines, or a negative result, means no fentanyl has been detected.
This instructional video on produced by Steve Rummler HOPE Network demonstrates each step of the process and exactly what to look for in terms of test results:
It’s important to note that test strips can detect the presence of fentanyl but not how much is present or its strength. Some forms, like Carfentanil which is used as an elephant tranquilizer, are more far potent than others. If there is a new variation or analog, the test strip likely won’t catch it until manufacturers add it to their products.
Test strips are legal in some, but not all states. In some states test strips are legal only if they are acquired from harm reduction programs or syringe exchange programs.
In states where they are considered illegal, fentanyl test strips are considered drug paraphernalia.
While there are advocacy efforts underway to legalize test strips in all states, at present, it’s best to check out the laws in the state where a loved one resides.
Test strips cost a few dollars each and can be purchased online on websites including DanceSafe, BunkPolice, and Amazon. Some community-based organizations like BirdieLight, public health departments and harm reduction and needle exchange programs offer them for free.
Some bars and restaurants are making them available to customers. They also can be found in some convenience stores and dollar stores.
While some people think they can spot fentanyl, the safest way to know for sure is to use test strips. Studies show that people who use fentanyl test strips often make changes to their behavior including:
Discarding their substances or using smaller amounts
Using a “tester shot” or more slowly to avoid an overdose
Snorting rather than injecting substances
Using substances with other people instead of alone so that someone can call 911 if needed
Ensuring they have naloxone on hand to reverse an overdose
People have also reported that they felt less judged by being able to test their substances in private rather than having to take their substances to another place for testing.
Our peer parent coaches have weighed in on the topic of encouraging their loved ones to use test strips. They know how deadly fentanyl can be, in some cases having lost their children to overdoses. By far and away, they view this as a much-needed safety measure to reduce the risks of overdose and death.
As one parent coach shared with tears in her eyes, “You can’t help them if they’re dead”.
Partnership to End Addiction is here if you need help thinking this through. We can share suggestions on how to talk about test strips with your loved one and other ways to reduce risks.