Opioid abuse is the cause of nationwide public health crises and deaths each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 70,237 drug overdoses that resulted in death in 2017. The CDC also reports that between 2016 and 2017, deaths related to the use of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl increased by 45%. Communities across the United States are deeply affected by the issues associated with opioid addiction

While opioids in themselves are helpful as acute pain relievers, their highly addictive nature has led to widespread abuse. One opioid that is often abuse is fentanyl. The drug is one of the most powerful opioids, and abusing it may lead to death.

Because of its potential for abuse and high potency, researchers have developed fentanyl test strips. The strips can identify if a substance contains fentanyl, or if an individual has fentanyl present in their body. Fentanyl test strips, as well as overdose kits, such as Narcan, can help people prevent and avoid fentanyl use or overdose.

What Are Fentanyl Test Strips?

Fentanyl testing strips can be used as a harm-reduction technique to test for the presence of fentanyl in a substance or test urine to detect fentanyl in the body.

After applying liquid to the strip, the results will indicate:

  • One line for a positive result
  • Two lines for a negative result.

How Are Fentanyl Test Strips Used?

In a trial conducted at Brown University, researchers gave participants naloxone overdose kits and conducted surveys before providing fentanyl test strips for them to use. Students were given the kits to test either urine or suspicious drugs. Afterward, they were asked for feedback. The study found that a majority of students believed the test strips were easy to use. There were multiple results:

  • Most students who used the test strips did so to find out if their drugs had fentanyl
  • More students tested drug residue than urine
  • Without being asked to, participants reported that they gave some test strips to people they thought were at a high risk for overdose
  • Drugs were tested privately because of concerns about legal matters
  • Students reported behavior changes based on finding fentanyl in drugs

Fentanyl test strips are proving to be a helpful way to form meaningful conversation about the safety of drug use.

Are the Fentanyl Test Strips Useful?

According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, fentanyl test strips were tested in a San Francisco pilot program between 2017 and 2018 as a response to growing drug use in the area. People who were purchasing drugs used the strips to test their drugs for fentanyl. Many times, they were not intending to purchase fentanyl, but the test strips revealed that the substance was present. 

Researchers had multiple positive findings about the use of fentanyl test strips, including:

  • Increased engagement and discussion with drug users
  • Test strips were simple and intuitive, requiring little instruction
  • Community feedback about the availability of test strips was positive
  • Test strips were accurate in determining the presence of fentanyl
  • Test strips led to harm reduction and information sharing
  • When drug users unexpectedly found fentanyl present, they were less likely to purchase that specific drug from the specific supplier

The sensitivity and accuracy of the test strips were high, making them effective for determining the contents of drugs and redirecting drug use. Participants in this study voluntarily gave feedback about whether they had ever tested their drugs before — most had not. When asked if they would be more likely to do so if they had test strips readily available, most responded positively. 

Feedback and empowerment are helpful ways for care providers to inform people how to resist drug abuse, addiction and overdose. The goal is to give people who struggle with addiction the power to make their own choices. Resources like fentanyl test strips can go a long way toward helping these people fully understand opportunities for recovery as well as the dangers of substance use.