Fentanyl test strips not enough to prevent most opioid overdose deaths, expert warns

From CTV

Paper fentanyl test strips are a simple way for people struggling with substance use to determine if fentanyl has been mixed into their drugs, but some advocates say they fail to help the people most at risk of dying from an opioid overdose.

The tests are low-cost and easy to use. Working similarly to a COVID-19 rapid test, a user mixes a very small amount of the drug they want to test with water, and dips the paper test strip into the solution.

“Then you wait for the result so then on your little test strip,” Karen McDonald, head of Toronto’s Drug Checking Service, told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “One line will present if your drug is positive for fentanyl, two lines will present if your test is negative for fentanyl.”

However, McDonald – who has 15 years of public sector experience, including in health policy – said the tests aren’t beneficial to people who are addicted to opioids and knowingly taking fentanyl. Someone who has no intention of using opioids and detects the presence of fentanyl in their supply of a different drug would likely alter their consumption in response, she said, but these types of contamination cause the minority of opioid overdoses.

For people who intentionally use opioids, knowing their drugs contain fentanyl is a very small piece of the harm-reduction puzzle.

“For over five years now, fentanyl has really saturated the unregulated opioid supply and is really the opioid of choice for most folks using opioids at this point,” McDonald said. “So, simply knowing if there is fentanyl in their fentanyl doesn’t really add value for folks.”

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