Some drug users in central and northern New York are using tiny test strips to determine if the heroin or cocaine they are about to shoot up contains fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is often mixed in with street drugs.
Fentanyl is responsible for an uptick in drug overdoses and deaths in recent years. ACR Health in Syracuse is distributing the strips as part of its syringe exchange and overdose prevention programs in a nine-county area. Roberto Gonzalez, director of ACR Health's syringe exchange program, said it’s been well received so far.
"People are reporting to us that these strips they are finding them beneficial," said Gonzalez. "They are happy they have these strategies, these tools, to prevent them from dying."
Other states and drug prevention programs across the country have started distributing these test strips, which are dipped in cookers that mix drugs with water. Gonzalez said beyond preventing overdoses these strips allow more reasons for counselors to interact with users.
"That allows us the opportunity to build a rapport with them, and it allows them the opportunity to say 'hey, can you help?' And we jump all over that. We do, because that’s the moment we are waiting for," said Gonzalez.
So far, about 150 strips have been given out to drug users. The strips cost about $1 each, and ACR received a grant from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to purchase the strips.