Fentanyl test strips floated as way to fight overdoses in Dayton area

A local woman wants more people in the Dayton area to know about low-price test strips that detect fentanyl in street drugs, and proponents say could help opioid abusers avoid fatal overdoses.

In 2017, overdoses claimed 562 people in Montgomery County and 64,000 in the United States the previous year. Tests on 100 of the overdose cases here showed 99 percent tested positive for fentanyl, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.

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Sheila Humphrey presented information this week to the support group Families of Addicts, encouraging the organization to invest in the cheap test strips that look similar to a pregnancy test and cost around $1.

Humphrey, who said she is a peer advocate with a family member in recovery, bought the first round of test strips online out of pocket and said by next week the she’ll be ready to hand out the test strips.

“We’re going to make them available to anyone that needs them, whether its a parent or someone in active addiction or even somebody in recovery if for whatever reason they relapse,” she said.

"We're interested in learning and exploring," Families of Addicts founder Lori Erion said Thursday following the meeting.

Erion said Families of Addicts would need more information before incorporating test strips into their efforts. But while Erion said she still has questions, the tests trips seems like they could have a place.

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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine. When drugs like fentanyl are mixed with heroin, it makes it more potent and unpredictable.

Everyone with an addiction is going to be in a different stage of change, Erion said. A test strip might not mean much for someone who is at a point where they don’t care about living anymore, but it might be helpful for someone who is thinking about treatment.

“No matter what anyone comes up with, it’s not going to be a blanket solution for everybody,” she said.

Humphrey said the strips will be a cheap way to get someone to pause for a second and think about what they are doing.

“That’s another second they are pausing and thinking this over,” she said.

Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County is researching test strips and seeking guidance from the state, but at this point doesn't have plans to pass them out.

“It’s being discussed, but there’s no resolution,” Dan Suffoletto, spokesman at Public Health, said.

Erion said one of the layers to the issue is that at this point most heroin has the presence of fentanyl. So unless the test results tell a user how much has been added, they might not provide any new information.

John Hopkins University published a study that shows the low-cost test strips can detect the presence of fentanyl with a high degree of accuracy.

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The study cautioned that there can still be false results and that public health experts advise that any drug-checking program should include harm reduction counseling, health education, and connection to services including treatment.

Dennis Cauchon, of Harm Reduction Ohio, which advocates for drug policy reform, was at the Dayton meeting to support making these test strips available, and said a user will still use the heroin, but they might reduce the dose.

“You can’t get a heroin user into recovery if they are dead so you need to meet drug users where they are and keep them alive for another day and this information can keep them alive for another day,” he said.

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