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An Effective, Less Expensive Way to Test for Fentanyl: Strip Testing

Test Strips Could Save Lives and Help Users Modify Drug Taking Behavior

New research conducted by a team from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in association with Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University suggests a promising new path to stemming the crisis of overdose fatality from fentanyl. The study found that inexpensive test strips were as effective as more costly and cumbersome technologies at detecting the presence of the drug as a component of other substances. The same research found that a clear majority of street drug users were concerned about the unknown presence of fentanyl, and would be interested in a way to check for it. Study coauthor Susan Sherman, PhD, MPH, professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society, commented, “We are at a pivotal moment in the overdose epidemic, and we need to embrace the full range of interventions that can save lives. Our findings bring to the table evidence that can inform a public health approach to the fentanyl crisis. Smart strategies that reduce harm can save lives.”

In the FORECAST study, the strip testing methodology was tested for detection limit and sensitivity against 2 other approaches, the Ramon spectroscopy-based TruNarc machine and the Bruker Alpha machine, as well as against the “gold standard” gas chromatography/mass spectrometer test. The BTNX test strips, which are based on an immunoassay, were found to have the lowest detection limit and the highest rates of sensitivity and specificity. Researchers also anonymously surveyed 335 users of street drugs in 3 cities and found that 84% agreed that drug checking would ease their concerns about unintended overdosing. 70% of respondents said that knowing of the presence of fentanyl would lead them to modify their drug-taking behavior.

Read a news story about the findings, with links to more information about the FORECAST study.

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