Fentanyl Testing Kits Reduce Harm in MA

police cars lines up

Fentanyl testing kits are being distributed through police departments across Massachusetts to help opioid users make better decisions about their drug use and avoid an overdose.

People who have an opioid use disorder often say they started by using prescription pain medication such as Oxycontin. People who begin with pills end up needing more and more of the same drug to get high. Eventually, the prescription pad dries up, and a doctor managing pain medication may flag a person for suspected opioid misuse. This often makes people turn to the street for their prescription pills, without ever realizing the drug they take also has a deadly dose of fentanyl in it, which can lead to overdose deaths. Many people who once used pills switch to heroin as well.

Harm Reduction Through Fentanyl Testing

In Boston and other cities, a newly launched program distributes fentanyl test strips to drug users. Police hope that by participating, the sheriff’s office can help slow or reverse the rate of overdose deaths in Massachusetts. Fentanyl testing is an important action that drug users can take to make sure the drugs they are using aren’t tainted.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, there were 1,913 overdoses in 2017. The Massachusetts Department of Health says there were more than 2,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts in 2019. Even with funds going into fighting the opioid crisis, the state is losing. Increasingly, fentanyl has been playing a role in opioid-related overdoses.

Fentanyl is a drug that is commonly used in surgery and for people with terminal illnesses. Its strength is about 50-100 times more potent than morphine. Its presence in street drugs and bootlegged pills are increasingly causing drug users to overdose and die.

How the Kits Work

Fentanyl testing kits have been in the works in various places for the past few years. A pilot program that Massachusetts is participating in after several research studies showed that they reduced overdoses in people with opioid use disorder. The studies showed that drug users would test their drugs and choose either do not use them or use less of the drug if they detect fentanyl.

The nonprofit Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, along with eleven police departments, will be launching the program and handing them out to drug users and suspected drug users. The group said the kits are “meant to inform and protect the health of people who use drugs, with the hope of leading them to change their use and behavior.”