New Fentanyl Testing Technology to Help in Harm Reduction
Harm reduction may not be the most popular method of fighting against drug addiction, but it is gaining more momentum in the presence of the devastating opioid epidemic. Concepts like needle exchange programs, safe injection sites and expansion of Narcan access are now more mainstream. So while advocates will agree that drug abuse is never ‘safe’ necessarily, promoting harm reduction has become more reasonable than letting addicts die. With the lethal synthetic opioid fentanyl infecting the illicit drug market and driving up overdose deaths, one company is focusing on protecting drug users with new fentanyl testing technology to test drugs before using.
So will this new technology help?
DanceSafe Drug Checking
The organization DanceSafe aims to promote health and safety within the electronic music community, as stated on their website. Already known for providing services related to drug testing, DanceSafe has grown from a San Francisco Bay Area group in 1998 to a nationwide organization with chapters across North America. They work to not only engage in conversation about drug use and personal safety, but also combat other issues by providing resources such as:
- Safe sex resources
- Water and electrolytes to prevent heatstroke and dehydration
- Free ear plugs to prevent hearing loss
- Fact-based information about effects and potential harms of drugs
- Working with promoters and local stakeholders to advocate safety first approaches
Many of these resources are most commonly found at their locations at raves and in the nightlife community. The focus seems to get a lot of its strength through peer-based education while empowering young people to make informed lifestyle choices. The website also states:
“Drug checking, also called pill testing or adulterant screening, is a harm reduction service that helps drug users avoid ingesting unknown and potentially more dangerous adulterants found in street drugs. Drug checking services also assist emergency medical professionals and public health agencies in identifying trends in illicit drug markets, so they can better serve the needs of the community.”
DanceSafe both manufactures and sells testing kits from their website as well so users can test their own substances. While this may be a controversial system some would see as promoting drug use, the organization seems to only be concerned with doing their part to protect lives and give people the information to make better choices.
Fentanyl Testing Technology
Today, the organization now offers fentanyl test strips to allow people to check their drugs for the substance, which is proving to be one of the most deadly drugs on the street. Recently, DanceSafe executive director Mitchell Gomez stated:
“When an individual opiate user doesn’t know what substance they are consuming, or the strength of their bag, the risks of opiate consumption increase considerably,”
“While no drug use is safe, by implementing harm reduction strategies like needle exchanges, free Narcan, supervised injection facilities and testing tools, drug use can be made safer.”
The University of California, San Francisco assisted DanceSafe by testing five different types of fentanyl detection strips. The truth is, none of the strips were effective at picking up every instance of fentanyl. However, a brand manufactured by BTNX, a Canadian company, was able to detect most of them including carfentanil.
This makes a huge impact considering carfentanil is the exceedingly potent version of the synthetic opioid. Carfentanil is even considered hundreds of times stronger than fentanyl. Mitchell Gomez states that this safety measure is increasingly essential with fentanyl becoming more and more prevalent, saying:
“We have now started to see fentanyl show up in non-opiate drugs like cocaine, and since the majority of cocaine users have no opiate tolerance at all, the risks of their accidental consumption of fentanyl are incredibly serious,”
The new fentanyl and carfentanil testing strips can be ordered from the DanceSafe website. The strips are seasonably priced at:
- 1 strip- $2.09
- 10 strips- $19.99
- 100 strips- $149
While DanceSafe is not yet distributing the strips at every event, they believe the resource will be worth the work.
Will it Work?
What some people may be asking, especially anyone familiar with addiction on a personal level, is will this prevent people from using the drug? Will someone addicted to opioids take the time to test their drugs before using them? If so, will knowing that fentanyl is present in their drugs, will it stop them from using at all?
Gomez notes that abstinence is the only way to remain completely safe from overdose, but he also notes it is an unrealistic expectation for many. He states:
“Although drug use is an inherently risky activity, the vast majority of users really do want to be as safe as possible, and find that knowing what substance they are consuming is an important part of that,”
While ‘safety first’ may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of heroin use or opioid abuse, it may be enough to hope that more people having the option to choose based on knowing what drugs they could be consuming may save lives. In the end, that is the point of all harm reduction programs; preservation of life.
Fentanyl testing may not fix the problem, but it can prevent death long enough to give someone a second chance. Gomez points out that the old way of the War on Drugs didn’t work out too well,
“Since Richard Nixon declared a ‘war on drugs’ in 1971, the United States has spent over a trillion dollars on drug prohibition,” Gomez said. “After 40 years of ‘just say no,’ and enough money to re-create the Apollo moon program more than 30 times over, we are now in the midst of the worst opiate epidemic in our history. Personally, I think it’s time for ‘just say know.’”
Like it or not, the man makes a really solid point. The more aggressively punitive approach to this problem has not yielded the best results. For all intents and purposes, many believe that the War on Drugs has been an utter failure and that compassion may be a superior strategy to punishment.
Changing course may be difficult for some, but with more tools available it may be an easy battle to fight. Expanding access to fentanyl testing strips may be a big step in curbing the climbing rates of overdose deaths in America. Perhaps as acceptance of harm reduction grows, more people will have the option for safe and effective addiction treatment.
Through harm reduction there is often the opportunity for access to treatment. Through safe and effective treatment the possibility for real recovery becomes a reality. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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