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article imageOpioid test strips may give drug users a false sense of security

By Karen Graham     Jul 24, 2017 in Health
The opioid crisis in Canada and the United States is still at epidemic proportions, and this has lead to a myriad of test strips being developed that test for a variety of illicit drugs, including cocaine, oxycodone, and fentanyl, to name a few.
However, British Columbia's Vancouver Coastal Health has already said they will not be offering the strips outside of InSite, a supervised injection site, according to CBC News.
A harm reduction group based in the U.S. called Dance Safe is now selling the Canadian-made fentanyl test strips to the general public online, but there are serious concerns over how the strips may be used.
VCH says that the test strip's inability to recognize many of the derivatives of fentanyl is their main concern. The new test strips only detect fentanyl, carfentanil, and maybe, two other derivatives. "As the strips get better it might be possible to offer them in the community," said Mark Lysyshyn, a medical health officer with VCH.
Safe injection sites provide a  safe and clean place to inject drugs and connect to health care serv...
Safe injection sites provide a safe and clean place to inject drugs and connect to health care services.
Vancouver Coastal Health
The Toronto-based biotech firm, BTNX, is the developer of the test strip called Rapid Response. and it says it's cautious about who it sells the strips to for the same reason.
According to the BTNX website, the Rapid Response test strip for fentanyl (FYL) is supposed to be used for testing urine based on lateral flow immunoassay test principals. The results are ready in 5.0 minutes and the strips must be stored at temperatures between 2-30°C/36-86°F.
The company website does not offer any details on the strip's drug specificity or degree of accuracy. It should also be noted that the fentanyl test strips do not have FDA approval in the United States, nor do they have an FDA or Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) waiver in the U.S.
There's no alternative
Dance Safe also shares concerns over the test strips, but executive director Mitchell Gomez says there is no real alternative for people worried about their drugs being contaminated. He said the group's original intent was to sell the strips to intravenous drug users, but when they went on sale, many people wanted to know if the strips could be used to test party drugs.
Joseph Palomar
"We had a lot of people reaching out about how to test cocaine, how to test MDMA [ecstasy]. People are deeply concerned about fentanyl being cut into these other substances," he said. Dance Safe says that after posting the Rapid Response strips for sale on their website, they added a number of warnings to the page.
Don't put all your faith in the test strips
In September 2016, The Pacific Standard did a story on Vancouver Coastal Health's pilot program using the test strips at its InSite facility. The program had only been going on for a month, but even then, Lysyshyn said he was worried about people getting a false sense of security on seeing a negative result. “A negative test doesn’t guarantee safer drugs,” he said.
Another thing that worried him at the time was the fact that the test strips were supposed to be used to test for fentanyl in urine, not ground up or powdered drugs with water added. According to BTNX at the time, they had never heard of using the strips in anything but urine. Iqbal Sunderani, the CEO of BTNX, Inc. did say “When people are dying, they have very little choice but to use what’s out there."
More about rapid response, opioids, fentanyl, Test strips, fall sence of security
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