Community Pharmacy is teaming up with Public Health Madison and Dane County to distribute free fentanyl testing strips, in an effort to reduce drug overdoses in Dane County.
The strips are available at the pharmacy’s east side location on Fair Oaks Avenue. PJ Chamberlain, a pharmacy technician at the pharmacy, says the strips show if there is any fentanyl present in a drug.
“You take a small amount, and what people are recommended to do is to get things ready as they normally would, and then before they use they would take whatever they prepared the drug in and test the residue with the fentanyl test kit. That will show if there is any fentanyl present in the drug,” Chamberlain says.
Chamberlain says that results are then shown in about 5 minutes.
“(You don’t wait) quite as long as a COVID test or a pregnancy test, but it is a similar principle where you stick the strip in and then it’s a little different than a COVID test, because one line means that it is present, and two lines means it is not present,” Chamberlain says.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, originally made as a pain reliever for cancer patients. But, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, it is about 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Kathy Andrusz, with Public Health Madison and Dane County, says that this makes the drug that it is cut into much more dangerous.
“To people who are using drugs it is dangerous, because it’s so concentrated. It’s a manufactured opiate, it’s not like heroin, where classically it’s a plant that is grown and then distilled. Fentanyl is manufactured in a lab. Because it’s created in a lab or a factory, it’s a lot less expensive than a plant that has to be cultivated in certain conditions and is very visible and regulated, it’s more scarce. And because it’s so inexpensive, it can be added anywhere in the distribution process to cut any drug,” Andrusz says.
Andrusz says that fentanyl can be added to any powdered or liquid drug, and not just heroin as is commonly believed. This just adds to the danger, because while someone using heroin may have some tolerance to opioids, someone using cocaine, which is not an opioid, will have a much lower tolerance, so less fentanyl is needed for it to cause an overdose.
In March of this year, the Wisconsin legislature passed a bipartisan bill legalizing fentanyl testing strips, as they were formerly classified as drug paraphernalia. Formerly, only law enforcement agencies were allowed to use the strips, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.
Public Health Madison and Dane County began distributing the test strips as soon as they were no longer considered paraphernalia – it’s just one part of a larger harm reduction strategy here in Dane County.
Harm reduction can include anything from free fentanyl tests, Narcan, and needles, to services like Never Use Alone. That group, not affiliated with Public Health Madison and Dane County, provides on-call drug-use supervision. Someone can call Never Use Alone, and someone will be on the other line while the person uses the drugs to make sure they are responsive. If the person falls unresponsive, the operator on the other end will contact emergency services to get them help as soon as possible.
Chamberlain says these harm reduction strategies are best used together.
“There are a lot of harm reduction techniques that are really effective. It’s just a bit unfortunate that they are needed, but at the same time, the people who are using are still human beings, they are still deserving of whatever can be done to reduce the amount of overdoses and other issues associated with using,” Chamberlain says.
These harm reduction methods are provided at Community Pharmacy through their partnership with Public Health Madison and Dane County, where not only fentanyl testing strips, but Narcan and needles are given for free.
Chamberlain says that he is glad to see that Community Pharmacy is distributing the testing strips, because for him, the topic is personal.
“About two years ago, a friend of mine passed away from an overdose. Harm reduction is very important to me, it’s just really important to me to help people struggling with addiction issues humanly. I’m very glad that Community Pharmacy is providing these resources for people, because I do think that they are extremely important. Too many people are just seen as addicts and toss them aside, but they are real people with friends and family who care about them,” Chamberlain says.
Photo courtesy: Hennie Stander / UNSPLASH