Pima County to distribute fentanyl test strips to prevent overdoses

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 7:08 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County Health officials have introduced a new tool to help battle the overdose deaths caused by misuse of fentanyl.

“One of the new things that we’re moving into is the use of fentanyl test strips as a harm reduction strategy,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the Chief Medical Officer for Pima County.

Fentanyl test strips are used to determine if drugs contain the drug and whether it’s safe to use.

Fentanyl is a pain medication which the CDC says it “50 to100 times more powerful than morphine.

When abused, it can lead to death as it does in about three out of four overdose deaths in Pima County, which will see a record number this year.

“It allows you to see whether the item you’re using is safe and is indeed fentanyl,” Dr. Garcia said. “It raises that red flag so maybe you can think twice about whether you want to put that in your body.”

Up until last year, the test strips were classified as drug paraphernalia in Arizona but have since been shown as a tool which may help prevent death.

The bill was passed after a state lawmaker lost her son to a fentanyl overdose.

Just a bit of the drug or even drug residue when mixed with water will show up on the strip if it contains fentanyl.

“We are trying to be realistic from a risk reduction standpoint, knowing that people who engage in that activity if they are going to continue to engage in that kind activity need to do it in a way that won’t kill them,” Dr. Garcia said.

The test strips will be distributed to agencies, clinics and communities where there is a risk of drug overdoses but that could be just about anywhere in Pima County.

“Deaths are happening in every zip code, in every single neighborhood so what we’re trying to do is make sure that people have access to these resources,” he said.

Part of the problem that leads to many overdoses is the people don’t know the drug they are taking is laced with a lethal amount of fentanyl or contains the drug at all.

“The problem with fentanyl is its so much more potent than your regular garden variety Percocet, that you very quickly get into trouble,” he said. “That’s when people overdose and that’s why the strategy is to make people aware of what it is that they’re taking.”

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