Fentanyl overdose deaths in Los Angeles County are up more than 1200% since 2016, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
The opioid is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The federal government says the drug has become the deadliest in the country.
The problem has led to thousands of deaths on the street over the last several years, with additional deaths slowly appearing in the local school system.
The biggest issue facing users, is that many seemingly unrelated drugs are being tainted or cut with fentanyl.
“The proliferation into prescription drug lookalikes show that four out of 10 pills that are recovered today by the Los Angeles Police Department, and across this country, contain a deadly and fatal amount of fentanyl,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said during a downtown news conference earlier this week.
Officials said the pills are cheap to make and easy to slip into the country over borders, causing devastating results.
Law enforcement agencies, school districts and other governing bodies have embraced and invested heavy capital into the use of naloxone, commercially known as Narcan, an anti-opioid overdose medication that has been credited with saving countless lives over the years.
But as the problem becomes more severe and as users are more and more likely to unknowingly ingest the highly deadly synthetic drug, health experts warn that additional steps should be taken before ingesting something that you can’t be completely sure hasn’t been tainted with fentanyl.
Luckily, there are low-cost testing strips available, many of which can be acquired free of charge.
Fentanyl test strips are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Users can fill a cup with a small amount of water, dissolve a small amount of drug powder in the water, dip the testing strip and then wait. In five minutes, the strip will tell you whether or not the powder contains any traces of fentanyl.
APLA Health has detailed instructions on using FTS strips on its website. There’s also instructions for similar, but slightly different fentanyl testing cards.
The CDC says these testing strips are a cost-effective and safe way to reduce fentanyl overdoses without demonizing users.
The CDC also recommends people keep naloxone readily available, know where the drugs are coming from, never mix drugs and never use alone. Those simple steps can save lives, officials say.
Of course, the safest way to avoid a deadly overdose is simply to not use illegal opioids. Treatment options for opioid addiction can be found at findtreatment.gov or by calling the National Helpline at 800-662-4357.
As to where to get fentanyl testing strips, many local organizations have them available for affordable prices or even entirely free.
APLA Health makes the strips available at many of its Los Angeles area clinics.
USC students can obtain free kits containing both naloxone and testing strips through the school. FTS strips are also available for purchase at campus bookstores.
Los Angeles County residents can obtain free fentanyl testing strips at various clinics across the county. For a list, click here.
Last year, the CDC announced that federal funds can be used to purchase fentanyl testing strips.
At the time of the announcement, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said, “We must do all we can to save lives from drug overdoses … The increase in drug overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids such as illicitly made fentanyl is a public health crisis that requires immediate action and novel strategies.”