Panel Paper: Implementing Fentanyl Test Strips As a Method of Harm Reduction

Friday, March 29, 2019
Mary Graydon Center - Room 331 (American University)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Darian Glenn Blanks, Sr., Columbia University

The number of illicit Fentanyl-related deaths in Illinois has risen exponentially since the Illinois Department of Human Services, Substance Use and Prevention office (IDHS/SUPR) began tracking these overdoses in 2013. Implementing inexpensive yet effective Fentanyl test strips would allow opioid (and now cocaine) users to determine if the potent substance is present in their drug of choice prior to use, therefore possibly reducing the number of accidental fatal overdoses. Currently, Naloxone is being used after-the-fact when signs of an overdose have presented themselves, being administered statewide 731 times in 2017. If the presence of Fentanyl could be identified prior to usage, overdoses and financial costs to communities would decrease. After Fentanyl appeared in Illinois, many county-wide collaborations were developed to combat the epidemic. Deploying resources from city and county law enforcement agencies, health departments, county coroners, not-for-profit organizations, and the local DEA office, these partnerships can utilize joint resources to help provide the Fentanyl testing kits. Already providing opioid education, prevention and intervention work, utilizing existing partnerships is a more prudent means of distributing testing kits in a timely manner through these previously established networks. Numerous studies have shown that harm reduction methods can save a considerable amount of money and resources versus incarceration or hospitalization. By teaching illicit opioid users how to use safely, Illinois residents could save on medical costs, emergency room overdose treatment costs and resources, costs associated with 911 emergency calls, the burdens associated with incarceration, and the less tangible costs and stressors to families and communities. Through education and by providing these test strips, users will have the ability to know if Fentanyl is present in their drug of choice prior to use, alerting them to use less, if it all. As with all harm reduction methods, there is an argument that providing Fentanyl test strips encourages people to continue to use illicit substances. Research beginning in the 1980s has shown that other harm reduction methods have proven safe and effective in communities across the nation, extending the life expectancy of users while reducing the overall burden to communities, financial and otherwise. By giving users the option to know if Fentanyl is present, and with proper education through community partnerships and IDHS/SUPR programs, users may reconsider usage once alerted to the presence of the substance, reducing overall accidental opioid overdoses.