A $1 test could help reduce accidental overdoses and save lives in Stark County

CANTON  A simple $1 test for fentanyl and similar drugs could help reduce accidental overdoses and save lives in Stark County.

Test strips already are available in Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus through programs that offer clean syringes.

Locally, the City Health Department’s cash-strapped syringe exchange, Project SWAP, is considering the idea.

Fentanyl crisis

Fentanyl and related drugs, including carfentanil, have been a big part of Ohio’s overdose crisis, which has killed 460 people locally since 2012.

Last year, three quarters of the 87 individuals who died from accidental overdoses tested positive for a fentanyl-related substance, according to a Canton Police Department compilation of Stark County Coroner’s data.

And the number of drug samples testing positive for fentanyl-related drugs nearly doubled last year, and was up more than 1,000 percent from 2014, according to statistics from the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab.

Often mixed with heroin or other opioids, fentanyl also has been found in cocaine and methamphetamine.


How they work

Fentanyl test strips were originally developed to detect drugs in urine. To use them, a person dissolves their drug in water and dips the strip.

One line means the sample contains fentanyl. Two lines is a negative reading.

“It works like a pregnancy test, basically,” said Beth Zietlow-DeJesus, director of external affairs for the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County.

A study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Bloomberg American Health Initiative tested the accuracy of test strips and two machines that detect drugs.

It found the strips detected fentanyl between 96 and 100 percent of the time, and at lower concentrations than the machines. When a sample didn’t contain fentanyl, the strips were accurate 90 to 98 percent of the time.

But test strips don’t say how much fentanyl is in a sample, and the study cautioned other toxic compounds could go undetected.

Cuyahoga program

Last year, Cuyahoga’s ADAMHS board gave $15,000 to Circle Health Services to buy 5,000 testing kits for its syringe exchange program. Each kit contains three strips.

Testers are advised to use a smaller amount, use at a slower pace or take a test shot if a sample contains fentanyl, said Zietlow-DeJesus.

Circle Health Services got its first supply of test strips through Cover2 Resources, a nonprofit founded by Greg McNeil, a father who lost his son to an overdose.

The ADAMHS board provided funding to keep the strips available.

“We know that people using have told us that they have not OD’d because they’re using these strips,” Zietlow-DeJesus said.


Studying results

Results from a Vancouver fentanyl-testing program showed individuals who injected drugs were 10 times more likely to reduce their dose after a positive test, and those who used a smaller amount were 25 percent less likely to overdose.

The Johns Hopkins study also interviewed 335 individuals who used drugs in Baltimore, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.

Eighty-four percent of those interviewed were concerned fentanyl was in the drugs they used. A quarter of interviewees said they had a preference for fentanyl.

Seven out of 10 of those interviewed said knowing their drugs contained fentanyl would change their behavior, such as not using the drugs, using them more slowly or using them in the company of a person who had naloxone, an overdose antidote.

Coming to Canton?

The City Health Department started Project SWAP a year ago. The program’s philosophy is to get people to protect themselves if they’re going to inject drugs, and test strips are a viable harm-reduction strategy, said Diane Thompson, the Health Department’s director of nursing.

“We will not discount any potential harm-reduction tool for this clinic,” Thompson said.

But before SWAP could hand out strips, it would undergo a legal review and have to find money to buy the strips. The program already is looking for money to buy syringes.

The Canton Repository recently talked with Project SWAP participants about what they thought of test strips.

A 35-year-old Canton woman said she’d been using heroin for nearly a decade.

“We hope that’s what it is,” she added, acknowledging much of the “heroin” sold locally contains fentanyl and similar compounds.

Testing her drugs before using wouldn’t be a bad idea, she said, but she was realistic about how that would influence her drug use.

“The risk we put ourselves in means we don’t always play it safe,” she said.

Reach Shane at 330-580-8338 or shane.hoover@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @shooverREP