CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia University researcher is seeking funding to study whether using fentanyl testing strips changes the behavior of drug users.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports fentanyl is powerful opioid that is increasingly involved in drug related deaths. Some harm reduction programs use the strips to warn drug users of the presence of fentanyl.
“We’re going to look at the positive and negative impact because it might be either way,” said Dr. Judith Feinberg is a professor at the WVU School of Medicine. “People might be safer if they know there’s fentanyl in their drugs, or people who are looking for fentanyl may use this as a way to seek out more-dangerous drug doses.”
Feinberg and researcher Jon Zibbel are asking the National Institute on Drug Abuse to fund the research to study a harm reduction programs at Milan Puskar Health Right, in Morgantown, and a program in North Carolina.
Dr. Robin Pollini, a harm reduction expert and the associate director of the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University, said, “There is good evidence that when people use these strips and their drugs test positive for fentanyl, they take steps to use more safely and thus reduce their risk of opioid overdose.”
Feinberg said she’s heard that the strips are an effective harm reduction tool, but she’s wary of anecdotes.
“If you don’t look systematically, you might hear the positive things from the people that feel that way about it and you might not hear that people are using it so they can find more fentanyl on the drug market for example,” she said. “So I think anecdotes always carry that danger. If you don’t look at things systematically, you don’t truly know what’s happening.”
Laura Jones, executive director of the Milan Puskar Health Right, said if the funding for Feinberg’s research project comes through, the harm reduction program will collect information about how well people use the strips and whether it changes their behavior.
“I hope that we will show that it is by and large a useful thing, because they are not that expensive,” Feinberg said. “They’re a dollar a strip. And, you know, a dollar is somebody’s life. That isn’t even a decision.”