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Fentanyl Test Strips

Fentanyl test strips test for the presence of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that commonly leads to overdose and death. These test strips can identify fentanyl in street drugs, reducing the risk of accidental overdose as a harm reduction tool.

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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.

How Do Fentanyl Test Strips Work?

Fentanyl test strips are pre-treated with antibodies that are specific to fentanyl molecules. When the strips are dipped in a solution that contains fentanyl, the fentanyl molecules will bump into their matching antibodies on the strip. The binding causes a color change on the strip, and that indicates a positive result.

Limitations exist. Some drugs (called fentanyl analogs) are similar to fentanyl and can cross-react with the antibodies. When this happens, the test might be considered positive when no fentanyl is present.

Preparing the sample is important too. Fentanyl molecules can be very small, and sometimes, they’re not evenly distributed throughout an entire dose of drugs. If you scrape off the end of one pill and just test that sample, you might miss the bits on the other side of the pill. You may think the dose is safe, but it is not.

Key Facts About Fentanyl Test Strips

Key Facts

  • 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.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a prescription medication that’s typically used to treat severe pain, especially discomfort after surgery. It’s also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who can’t get relief from other painkillers.

In prescription-grade form, fentanyl is sold under brand names like Actiq and Duragesic. Patients may use patches, injections, or lozenges that contain fentanyl as an active ingredient.

People with pain may use fentanyl as directed by their doctors without developing addictive behaviors. The medication can help them feel more comfortable, and in some cases, it could help them to heal.

Patients who use fentanyl get the medication from pharmacies. Their drugs are made in laboratories and tested for purity. These are very different from the drugs people might get from dealers.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Put the wavy end of the strip in the water for approximately 15 seconds.
  4. Remove from the water and lie the strip flat for 2 to 5 minutes.
  5. 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.

Where Can You Find Fentanyl Test Strips?

Fentanyl testing strips are legal to purchase and use in at least 20 states. Unfortunately, states like Montana consider fentanyl test strips drug paraphernalia. It’s illegal to buy them or possess them in states like this.

However, fentanyl test strips are often available from online retailers, as are similar products such as fentanyl testing kits. These strips are also 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
  • Raves
  • 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.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated May 3, 2024
  1. BTNX Fentanyl Test Strips (10 Test Pack).
  2. Federal Grantees May Now Use Funds to Purchase Fentanyl Test Strips. (April 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. Fentanyl Resources. National Harm Reduction Coalition.
  4. Fentanyl Test Strips: A Harm Reduction Strategy. (September 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. Overdose Death Rates. (January 2022). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  6. Harm Reduction Therapy: A Practice-Friendly Review of Research. (February 2014). Journal of Clinical Psychology.
  7. Fentanyl DrugFacts. (June 2021). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  8. Lifesaving Fentanyl Test Strips Still Illegal in Some States Under 70s-Era War on Drugs Law. (June 2023). Associated Press.
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