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‘Not a perfect tool’: FOX 12 looks into how fentanyl testing strips should be used

By Audrey Weil

SOURCE: KPTV FOX 12


PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Given a major increase in overdose deaths from fentanyl, there are more conversations happening now about prevention measures.

One option is fentanyl testing strips, but FOX 12 wanted to see just how reliable those are and how they should be used.


First, to be clear, health officials are adamant that anyone should only be using pills from their doctor or pharmacist.


If you get pills anywhere else, you should assume they’re fake and contain potentially deadly amounts of fentanyl.


But when it comes to harm reduction in that kind of situation, testing strips are a tool, though as we learned, they are not a perfect tool.


They were originally intended for urine drug testing, until it was realized and research showed they can be used to test substances before people consume them.


“They really stemmed out of the idea that people who are using substances deserve the right to have as much information as possible about what is in their drugs,” Haven Wheelock said.


Wheelock is the drug users health services program coordinator for Portland non-profit Outside In.


She primarily works with people who inject heroin and meth but in the past six months, she’s dealt much more with fentanyl too.


She showed me how these test strips work, which is only in liquid so any pill has to be crushed and mixed with water.


The strip will show one line if it detects fentanyl and two if it doesn’t.

But this is by no means foolproof.


“A negative test does not mean that this is a safe substance to take,” Wheelock said. “Fentanyl test strips are not a perfect tool right? And just because the test strip says it doesn’t have fentanyl, it may just be the bit that you are testing doesn’t have fentanyl in it but other parts of that same pill could, as well as other pills in the same batch could.”


Wheelock said we don’t know if the strips work on all types of fentanyl, and opioids can still be dangerous even without any fentanyl in them.


Plus, overdose risk is much higher for people who don’t use drugs regularly because they haven’t built up a tolerance.


So while there is a benefit to these strips, they should not be relied upon completely.


And Wheelock stresses that anyone who chooses to use substances should have naloxone on hand in case of overdose.


Because fentanyl is so potent, it can require more than one dose.


In Oregon you can get it at a pharmacy without a prescription.


Fentanyl testing strips are available online and at harm reduction sites.


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