Test strips help NJ addicts avoid fentanyl as they take heroin
If you can't kick a drug addict's habit, you could at least lower the chances that they'll be New Jersey's next overdose victim.
The state already had more than 3,000 of those in 2018.
So, in an effort to lower the casualty count caused by fentanyl — the synthetic opioid used by dealers to produce a cheaper and more powerful high — agencies throughout the Garden State are distributing strips that give heroin users the opportunity to test for the presence of the drug in their supply.
Just a pinch of the analgesic can be fatal.
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.
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.
"Certainly there's no safe way to be using or abusing heroin," Angelo Valente, executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, said. "But I think we need to do everything we can to save lives."
These measures, though, should be accompanied by efforts to get users into treatment, he said.