Drug testing strips, similar to home pregnancy kits, could now help in detecting fentanyl overdose in drug samples, as per a recent study carried out by a Rhode Island epidemiologist and published on Feb.8, 2018. A Canadian company has manufactured the strips and the public health officials in New York and Canada have used these to combat the opioid overdose mayhem.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s nearly 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl and its synthetic analogues caused more than 50 percent of the opioid-related fatal overdoses during July–December 2016, and nearly 60 percent of the overdose-related deaths in the Rhode Island alone. According to the study, the strips accurately detected fentanyl in about 96 percent of the samples from the Rhode Island State Public Health Laboratory and 100 percent in samples taken from a Baltimore laboratory.
Harm-reduction approach to revive overdose victims
Senior research scientist at Rhode Island and co-author of the study, Traci C. Green, stated that this technique is useful as a harm-reduction method like needle exchanges for the prevention of HIV-AIDS infection. The Bloomberg American Health Initiative sponsored the study and it analyzed samples received from the police departments of Providence, Baltimore and Boston. The researchers also surveyed 355 people from these three states who used drugs. 84 percent of those who were interviewed expressed their concern for drugs containing fentanyl while 26 percent preferred to have fentanyl.
The study recommends that the social service agencies should distribute these fentanyl-testing strips, facilitate their use in supervised settings, or share with people who use drugs in outreach programs. However, the Canadian firm manufacturing these strips raised a concern that the strips could also give a false negative and may not be useful to detect the newer versions of fentanyl hence, they should be used only at those places where people overdosing on fentanyl can be revived. According to the health officials of Rhode Island, none of the state laws or regulations currently prohibit the distribution of these strips.
Road to recovery
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic, is useful in managing chronic, oncology-related and surgical pain. Its use has significantly increased across various states in the U.S. as it’s cheaper than heroin or cocaine, can be easily obtained and often mixed with heroin and sold to gullible users as pure heroin. The result is a toxic buildup that heightens the risk of a faster overdose. Fentanyl is sold in the form of powder, tablets or spiked on blotted paper similar to lesser effective opioids like heroin. Even a small dose of it is powerful enough to cause death unless the antidote naloxone is quickly provided to the user. Non-medical use of fentanyl or misuse can lead to severe health effects like depression, drowsiness, slowed heart rate, unconsciousness and hallucinations, among others. The most worrisome trend is the production of counterfeit pharmaceutical preparations containing varying proportions of fentanyl and its analogues. When uninformed customers purchase such products, they put their lives in danger.
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