FRIDAY, Feb. 16, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- A thin test strip -- similar to a pregnancy test -- can detect whether a street drug contains the dangerous opioid fentanyl, according to a new report.
Fentanyl -- one of strongest types of opioid painkillers -- is often mixed into street drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. That makes it hard for users to assess the potency of the drugs and raises the risk for overdose, according to the report's authors.
However, their research revealed that many people who use street drugs said they'd be interested in using such testing to help prevent overdoses.
The report was presented recently at a meeting at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Hopkins researchers, along with those from Brown University and the Rhode Island Hospital, did the research for the report. It was issued by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, an effort to address troubling public health issues.
Fentanyl -- which is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine -- is the main cause of a sharp rise in overdose deaths. It was linked to 20,000 of the more than 64,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2016, the researchers noted.
"We are at a pivotal moment in the overdose epidemic, and we need to embrace the full range of interventions that can save lives," study co-author Susan Sherman said in a Hopkins news release. She's a professor in the Bloomberg School's department of health, behavior and society.
"Our findings bring to the table evidence that can inform a public health approach to the fentanyl crisis," she said. "Smart strategies that reduce harm can save lives."
To test a drug for fentanyl, you would mix a sample with water, according to a report in The Baltimore Sun. If the drug contained fentanyl, two stripes would appear on the test strip. One stripe would appear if the strip didn't detect fentanyl.
The test may not be 100 percent accurate, however.
"There is still a risk," Sherman told The Sun. "But this is about giving users some information to make choices and reduce harm associated with use," she explained.
"They don't want to die," she said.
To evaluate the test strips, the researchers compared their results with those from three drug-checking technologies to detect fentanyl in street drug samples. The test strips were found to be the most accurate.
The researchers also conducted anonymous surveys with 335 drug users in Baltimore, Boston and Providence, R.I. About 89 percent of the respondents said that being able to test for fentanyl would make them feel more able to protect themselves from overdoses.
Also, 70 percent said that knowing a drug contained fentanyl would lead them to change their behavior. That included not using the drugs, using the drugs more slowly, using them only with people who have access to the overdose treatment drug naloxone, or changing their buying habits.
Narconon has more about fentanyl and fentanyl abuse.