What Are Fentanyl Test Strips?
Fentanyl test strips can be used to detect the presence of fentanyl in drugs a person intends to use. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid and has very high addiction potential, which means it is often mixed with other drugs to increase their potency and addictiveness. This is something the person selling those drugs may not necessarily be honest about.
Although fentanyl is an illegal substance, testing kits aren’t generally considered “problematic” by legal authorities, at least in the United States. Their existence and use are openly supported by many organizations, including the CDC. Federal funding can even be used by grantees to purchase rapid fentanyl test strips in an effort to reduce overdose deaths.
Key Facts About Fentanyl Test Strips
- Fentanyl is the drug involved in the most overdose deaths that occur in the United States of any substance, especially when considering polydrug overdoses, where a person overdoses as a result of using two or more different drugs.
- Fentanyl is generally considered 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine or about 50 times stronger than heroin.
- Fentanyl can be injected, smoked, or snorted. It is easily combined with other drugs.
- Fentanyl is often laced in street drugs, like heroin, meth, or cocaine, often unbeknownst to the user.
The Importance of Test Strips
As black market products, fentanyl and other illegal drugs aren’t regulated, and you cannot rely on a seller’s word on the quality or contents of their products. Taking drugs that you don’t know contain fentanyl can potentially cause a fatal overdose.
While fentanyl has legitimate medical use in the right context, it can be incredibly dangerous when used recreationally. Ideally, people would not abuse it or any other opioids. At the same time, an important concept in medicine is harm reduction.
Harm reduction practices acknowledge that people may engage in behaviors that are harmful to themselves. The goal is to try and make those activities at least safer than they normally would be.
A common example of harm reduction is a needle exchange, where intravenous drug users can get clean needles. This reduces the spread of disease and lower associated death rates. While it would be ideal if people stopped all IV drug use, this goal is unrealistic for some. Making the practice safer is the goal of harm reduction.
Testing is another harm reduction practice. It helps people to ensure they at least know what they’re putting in their bodies and allows them to make informed decisions rather than blind ones. If people know that fentanyl is in a drug they are about to take, many will opt out of using it.
How Do You Use These Strips?
Using testing strips is pretty simple, and instructions are provided with the tests. The following is generally how you can expect a test to work, although you should always follow provided instructions where they differ from the following:
- Put at least 10 mg of the substance you want to test in a dry, clean container. While you need at least 10 mg, you also want to ideally test a small amount for the most accurate results, so aim to stick close to this amount.
- Put water in the container. The exact amount may differ according to the specific test, but about ½ to 1 teaspoon of water is generally recommended.
- Put the wavy end of the strip in the water for approximately 15 seconds.
- Remove from the water and lie the strip flat for 2 to 5 minutes.
- Read the results of the test.
- Positive result: If you see one pink line on the left side, this means that fentanyl or an analog is in the drugs.
- Negative result: If you see two pink lines, this indicates that the test did not detect the presence of fentanyl. Remember that no test is foolproof, so a negative result doesn’t guarantee that fentanyl is not present.
- Invalid result: If you see a single pink line on the right side of the test, or there are no lines present, the test failed to provide a meaningful result (which is not the same as a negative result). You will need to test again using a new strip.
The CDC refers to this as a “chocolate chip cookie effect” in regard to these test strips. Just because a test came up negative doesn’t necessarily mean all of what you wanted to test is free of fentanyl. As with chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies, it’s possible to not have fentanyl in one part of the drugs even if it is present in other parts. If fentanyl isn’t evenly dispersed, it is possible to test a portion of the substance that didn’t contain fentanyl, while another part of the substance does contain fentanyl.
Where Can You Find Fentanyl Test Strips?
Fentanyl testing strips are available online from many different retailers, as are similar products such as fentanyl testing kits. Importantly, these tests aren’t usually controlled products because they don’t contain fentanyl.
These strips are also often given out by organizations hoping to combat the opioid epidemic and reduce overdose deaths. If you think you might benefit from having test strips, you can look up if any of these organizations operate in your area.
How Much Do Strips Cost?
Testing strips can vary significantly in cost, but you can find some online that cost $19 for a pack of 10. Approximately $2 per strip is the average cost of these test strips.
More complex testing kits can be significantly more expensive. If you’re exploring your options, it’s important to confirm if a strip is intended to test drugs or urine. Both types of testing strips are available — one to test the potency of drugs and another to test if a person has used opioids recently.
Areas & Events Where Strips Are Important
Testing strips matter anywhere you might encounter fentanyl, especially if buying drugs or similar substances from black market dealers, or being given substances by other people. However, these test strips can be specifically useful in the following settings:
- Music festivals
- Any big events
Why Strips Matter in 2023 & Beyond
The unfortunate reality is that these strips are going to continue to be necessary if the United States wants to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic. Despite growing awareness about the dangers of opioids, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have caused overdose deaths to spike and signaled a new, dangerous wave of opioid use that this country hasn’t managed to meaningfully curb at this time.
Whatever the solution to reducing opioid use long term, it is important to at least accept that people are currently engaging in drug use and take active steps to reduce how many people die as a result of overdose. Fentanyl testing strips and other harm reduction tools can help in these efforts.
- BTNX Fentanyl Test Strips (10 Test Pack). FentStrips.com.
- Federal Grantees May Now Use Funds to Purchase Fentanyl Test Strips. (April 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Fentanyl Resources. National Harm Reduction Coalition.
- Fentanyl Test Strips: A Harm Reduction Strategy. (September 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Overdose Death Rates. (January 2022). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Harm Reduction Therapy: A Practice-Friendly Review of Research. (February 2014). Journal of Clinical Psychology.