In 2021 there were over 107,000 reported drug overdose deaths. The primary cause of those deaths also lies at the heart of the country’s drug epidemic: fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that’s both cheap and widely available. It’s so pervasive that one state found that fentanyl was involved in 91% of all opioid overdose deaths (and 73% of all drug-related deaths in the state overall). 

What’s most alarming about this situation, however, is that many of the thousands who died of fentanyl-related causes had no idea they were taking it. DEA lab tests found that the number of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl (the most common type of fentanyl-laced drugs) has increased by nearly 430% in the span of two years. 

Though the situation sounds bleak, a surprisingly easy, accessible, and affordable solution has been around for years: fentanyl testing strips. The potential impact of the harm-prevention strategy cannot be overstated as these little strips of paper can make the difference between life and death.

The Deadly Prevalence of Fentanyl-Laced Drugs

In just two months, the DEA seized enough fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills to kill 700,000 unsuspecting Americans (not to mention the 712 kilograms of pure fentanyl powder). While the concept of drugs being laced, either intentionally or unintentionally, is nothing new, fentanyl-laced drugs are an entirely different beast. 

Incredibly potent on its own (fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin, and a lethal fentanyl dose is two milligrams which is the equivalent of about 10 to 15 grains of salt). It’s virtually odorless and tasteless and can be used as an additive in powder and liquid form. Fentanyl is often added to already-dangerous substances such as cocaine, heroin, and meth, as well as fake prescription pills. 

How Fentanyl Testing Strips Work

Created in 2011, fentanyl testing strips are single-use pieces of paper that detect the presence of fentanyl in any of its forms—pill, powder, or injectable liquid. They’re small and discreet enough to be carried in your wallet. 

To detect if a drug has fentanyl or not, the user simply needs to create a small mixture containing water and a sample of the drug being tested. The testing strip is then dipped in that liquid and generates the results in just a few minutes. Two red lines mean the substance is free of fentanyl; a single line, however, means that you’ve got a drug with some fentanyl on your hands.

One limitation of these strips is that they cannot determine how much fentanyl is present. Still, these testing strips give power to people who use drugs to provide life-saving information. 

Benefits & Practical Uses of Fentanyl Test Strips

Although FTS can’t detect the amount of fentanyl there might be in your drug, these tests allow people to verify that they’re not putting anything in their body that they don’t want and encourage safer drug-using behavior.

For some people, the detection of any trace of fentanyl is enough to surrender or discard their batch of drugs. Others may be willing to chance it and still use those drugs that tested positive for fentanyl but it might make them lower the amount that they would use, or think twice about using other types of drugs. 

Those who find themselves with fentanyl-contaminated drugs may also use the tests to determine if their dealer is trustworthy–and perhaps, to consider finding a new one. If the source of the drugs was purchased at a particular event like a music festival, a person may be wary of accepting using drugs from strangers who may also have laced drugs purchased from the dealer. 

Studies have shown that drug testing strips help users feel more in control over their health. This often leads to them using drugs more safely, which in turn decreases overdose rates and even odds of remission.

How much do fentanyl strips cost and where can I buy them?

Fentanyl test strips cost around a dollar each, but despite how inexpensive they are they can be difficult to get your hands on. The ever-pervasive stigma surrounding addiction, drug use, and harm reduction strategies, has stalled the availability of these simple but life-saving products. 

Some states categorize these and other drug-testing kits as illegal paraphernalia. Other states have decriminalized them and made efforts to distribute them through state initiatives. The most reliable place to buy fentanyl testing strips is online.

Tests may also be available for free at large gatherings where drug use is common like music festivals. It’s a far cry from the widespread availability that Americans deserve–and need, given the current opioid crisis. However, attitudes toward harm prevention methods like these are improving.