HOUSTON, T.X. – As drug overdoses increase, more states move to make fentanyl test strips and narcan more available.
More than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses last year. Now, advocates and The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Dr. Nora Volkow say harm reduction tools could reduce the number this year.
“The 12 months leading to March 2022 show continued rises in overdose mortalities from fentanyl,” Dr. Volkow said.
She said most people overdosing from fentanyl are unaware it’s what they were consuming.
“This [fentanyl] was initially disguised in heroin, and now it’s being disguised in cocaine, methamphetamine and illicit prescription pills. So, when people seek out heroin, they are very likely to get it contaminated with fentanyl. And, similarly for other drugs,” Dr. Volkow said.
George Youngblood is a recovery counselor providing support for adolescents at Houston’s Teen and Family Services. He said he’s seen a pattern in the overdoses at his center.
“The overdoses we’ve been the closest to, are adolescents who think they’re taking xanax,” Youngblood said.
Dr. Volkow said there is a solution.
“The distribution of fentanyl test strips – this allows for a drug user to test the drugs they are going to consume,” Dr. Volkow said.
But, as of last month, fentanyl test strips remained illegal in 19 states, often considered drug paraphernalia. She said distributing narcan, also known as naloxone, is also another option.
“Distribution of naloxone is one of the most powerful tools we have for the reduction of overdoses and save lives,” Dr. Volkow said.
Ohio, Delaware, and Iowa are currently the only states that provide narcan for free. Now, advocates and leaders across the country are seeing a desperate need for government narcan funding.
At a press conference in Beaumont, Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said, “The governor’s office has criminal justice grants that may have the ability of providing money for narcan. One way or the other, we’ll find the resources to make sure that we’re saving the lives of innocent people.”
Advocacy groups, including Casey Malish with the Houston Harm Reduction Alliance, said increasing access to narcan and test strips could have a dramatic impact.
“It’s saving taxpayer money from the hospitalizations. It’s increasing access to the overdose reversal medications – meaning less people losing their lives, hopefully,” Malish said.
According to CVS, 41 states have legalized the sale of narcan without a prescription.
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