West Orange police have a new program to offer those with drug problems free test strips that can easily detect the presence of deadly Fentanyl in a quantity of cocaine or heroin.

Police say the test strip is pretty basic and similar to a home pregnancy test. The user puts it in a small cup or plate containing a sample of the drugs and a little water for 30 seconds. It will indicate one stripe, which means that the sample tests positive for Fentanyl, or two stripes, which means there is no Fentanyl present.

West Orange Police Chief James Abbott says, so far, so good.

"People who are interested can come into the police lobby (to pick up test strips). They do not have to speak to a police officer. They don't have to worry about any interaction with law enforcement."

According to the Attorney General's Office, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues played a role in more than 50 percent of New Jersey's drug overdose deaths in 2017. For the first time, the state's overdose-death tally topped 3,000 (3,163) in 2018.

While critics may suggest tools such as testing strips and Narcan — the overdose antidote drug — contribute to the cycle of addiction, drug prevention advocates say any potentially lifesaving measure is critically important.

Lt. Richard McDonald, who heads the West Orange department's drug prevention effort, said police are trying to do what they can to alleviate the  public health crisis: "This is just one of the many steps that we're taking to try to reach out to the community."

Six of New Jersey's seven syringe access programs have had funding to acquire the strips since May 2018. When it reopened in 2018, Camden's location received strips.

South Jersey AIDS Alliance, the SAP based in Atlantic City, offers the strips to any client who's willing to use them. Distribution of the strips comes with a conversation as well.

"We can talk to people — the clients who come into the syringe access program — about how fentanyl is so much more powerful than heroin, and that it can actually cause an overdose," said Georgett Watson, chief operating officer, told New Jersey 101.5 earlier this year.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5

— With previous reporting by Dino Flammia

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