This opinion piece originally ran in January of 2019. Now comes Joe Cutter’s article on West Orange giving out these same strips to test heroin for fentanyl.

Is telling someone not to do heroin because it’s so deadly while at the same time helping them do it a logical path? These fentanyl test strips can make one assume no one ever dies from heroin itself which of course happens all the time. At the end of this piece is a poll which is still active to gauge New Jerseyans opinion on this program.


 

On one hand, over 3,000 people lost their lives last year in drug overdoses in New Jersey as the opioid epidemic continues. On the other hand, there's now a test strip that can check heroin and cocaine to see if it is laced with fentanyl. That's huge because fentanyl plays into 29% of those deaths nationally and more than half of overdose deaths here in Jersey. Many times a heroin user doesn't know it's there.

Now test strips for drug addicts to test for fentanyl are being made available free of charge. For years New Jersey has had syringe access programs. They programs have been receiving money to get these test strips since May of last year. South Jersey AIDS Alliance based in Atlantic City then for example offers the test strips to anyone who's willing to use them. It's controversial for several reasons. One, you're paying for it. Another, just like Narcan many are opposed to anything that makes heroin addicts feel safer about using heroin when it can always kill you. There's no safe heroin.

The strips cost $1 each, so they're relatively cheap. You can argue the lives saved and turned around to become productive taxpaying citizens will more than pay for the program. Yet there's something you should know. These test strips are known for false negatives. It works much like a pregnancy test in reverse. In this case two lines for negative, one line for positive. But it's been known to happen that two lines will appear in a sample that actually did contain fentanyl after all. And they can't identify all forms of fentanyl. Talk about a false sense of security.

Also, some argue these test strips can be used for the exact opposite purpose of what's intended. While 86% of drug users say they'd use the strips and 70% say they'd modify their behavior if it came up positive, nearly 25% of drug users say they actually prefer drugs laced with fentanyl. What do you think those will do with a positive result? Exactly, be even more drawn to it.

In the 90's when needle exchange programs began I could support them for the fact that it was largely about the spread of AIDS, and innocent people were unwittingly contracting AIDS from intravenous drug users. This program is different. This is protecting a drug user from his own actions. Yes you can hand out advice and counseling along with the test strips. Yet the strips still speak louder than the words. It's tacit approval of heroin.

So are taxpayer funded fentanyl test strips a good way to save lives? Or is it wrapping heroin users in a false security blanket and lessening a fear that may have brought them to rehab sooner? Take our poll.

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