Pubdate: Mon, 07 May 2018
Source: Blade, The (Toledo, OH)
Copyright: 2018 The Blade
Author: Lauren Lindstrom


Northwest Ohio Syringe Services has begun distributing fentanyl test
strips to active users of opioids and other drugs. The exchange, a
program through the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, is part of
a larger strategy of harm reduction to keep people with addiction
issues healthy while using, and provide them with resources and help
when they want to seek treatment.

Fentanyl has become the scourge of anyone trying to fight Ohio's
opioid epidemic: deadly in small quantities and appearing in an
increasing number of fatal overdoses.

Users never can be sure what has been mixed with what they believe is
heroin or cocaine after the drug is cut and sold several times. Now,
Lucas County's needle exchange program offers free fentanyl test
strips that indicate the presence of fentanyl or similar substances.

"Fentanyl has been responsible for a majority of the overdoses we've
seen lately and we don't think that is going to change," said Courtney
Stewart, a licensed social worker with Northwest Ohio Syringe
Services. "So we want to provide people with an option to test their
purchase before injecting to see if they want to use it and then they
are more empowered to make decisions from there."

The strip, likened by some to a home pregnancy test for its rapid
results showing one or two lines, allows users to test for the
presence of fentanyl or similar synthetics in a number of drugs.

"Two red lines means it's negative for fentanyl, one red line means
it's positive for fentanyl," Ms. Stewart said. "Based on what your
result is, you have a decision to make."

Officials hope users discard that purchase, use less of it, or use in
the presence of others with naloxone available to decrease the risk of
overdosing. The test does not detect the amount of fentanyl in a
substance but rather if it is present or not.

Fentanyl or its analogues were present in more than 65 percent of
fatal opioid overdoses in 2016 across a 21-county region tested by the
Lucas County Coroner's Office. It marked the first year synthetic
opioids killed more people than heroin, a stark increase from 2014
when only 9 percent of opioid overdoses involved fentanyl.

Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin. And it's not just in
heroin purchases where fentanyl is showing up, but also in cocaine and
other street drugs.

Officials have distributed 132 of the fentanyl test strips so far, Ms.
Stewart said, and they continue to hear from clients whose tests come
up positive. She even had one man return to the exchange looking for
help reading his test results.

It was positive.

"We would encourage people to test everything that they can," she
said. "Those people that did have a positive read, they said they are
not going to continue buying from that dealer."

The strips are part of a larger harm reduction strategy by Northwest
Ohio Syringe Services, which also offers new syringes, naloxone,
health screenings, HIV, hepatitis C, and pregnancy testing, safe sex
materials, and recovery information to clients who walk through the

"I consider us a carrot on a stick. We'll get you in, get you what you
need, but we're also going to get you help too," said Lisa
Hawthorne-Price, a registered nurse with the program.

Participants, who can remain anonymous and receive a unique
identification number, have been coming at a rate of about 15 new
people per month.

"Our goal is to protect the health of [intravenous] drug users in the
community and also improve their quality of life and help them
eliminate any systemic or personal barriers they have to accessing
care for recovery or behavioral health services," Ms. Stewart said.

Critics of such harm reduction policies contend that they promote drug
use, or in the case of fentanyl strips, help seek out fentanyl.

"The majority of people are wanting to protect themselves from
overdose and I think that's who is going to take that test home, more
often than not. We don't want people to guess. We want people to have
the tools to use to get a more accurate result than to eyeball it,"
she said.

"If people are going to use a test like this to seek out fentanyl,
we're going to educate them on overdose prevention," she said,
including not using alone and being trained to administer naloxone.
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