How to Get and Use Fentanyl Testing Strips

Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty)

Fentanyl recently became the deadliest drug in America, according to a CDC report in December. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is sometimes mixed into other illicit drugs, but it’s far more potent than what it’s usually mixed with. This means that a dose that seemed safe(ish) can be deadly, but you wouldn’t know it unless you actually tested.

Fortunately, there is a way to test: fentanyl test strips exist for detecting traces of the drug in a person’s urine, and it’s not hard to repurpose them to test a drug before you take it. The Harm Reduction Coalition has full instructions here, which include:

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  • Rinse the baggie or cooker that contained the drug with sterile water. (To test a pill, crush the whole pill and mix it with water.)
  • Dip the test strip in the water for 15 seconds.
  • Place the strip horizontal (on a sterile surface if possible) and read results. Two lines means fentanyl was detected; one line means it was not.

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The strips can’t tell you how much fentanyl is present, only whether it is there or not.

What you do after getting the result is up to you. A drug isn’t necessarily safe to take just because it doesn’t contain fentanyl; and even though it would be prudent not to use the drug at all if it contains fentanyl, realistically some people will use it anyway. The Harm Reduction Coalition says that “reduced risk measures can include using less of the substance, giving slow or test shots, not using alone, using with a naloxone rescue kit nearby, or not using the substances at all.” If you or a person you know uses any opioid drugs, it’s always a good idea to have naloxone on hand and know how to use it.

Check with your local harm reduction agency to see if you can get free test strips. (These will be the same people who organize things like needle exchanges, naloxone trainings, and supervised injection sites.) If not, you can order them online for about $2 a strip from places like DanceSafe.

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