HOUSTON, T.X. – As the number of opioid overdoses rises, more states are making fentanyl test strips and Narcan more accessible.
Last year, nearly 100,000 individuals perished from drug overdoses. Now, activists like Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse say that harm reduction methods could cut the number of overdose deaths this year.
“The 12 months leading to March 2022 show continued rises in overdose mortalities from fentanyl,” Dr. Volkow said.
She said that most fentanyl overdose victims are unaware they are swallowing the drug.
“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 rehabilitation counselor for teenagers at Teen and Family Services in Houston. He said that he has seen a trend in overdoses at his facility.
“The overdoses we’ve been the closest to, are adolescents who think they’re taking xanax,” Youngblood said.
Dr. Volkow said that a remedy exists.
“The distribution of fentanyl test strips – this allows for a drug user to test the drugs they are going to consume,” Dr. Volkow said.
As of last month, though, fentanyl test strips remained prohibited in 19 states, where they are often seen as drug paraphernalia. She said that the distribution of Narcan, commonly known as naloxone, is another alternative.
“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 the only states that now supply free Narcan. Now, activists and authorities throughout the nation recognize the dire necessity for government support of narcan.
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.”
Advocates, like Casey Malish of the Houston Harm Reduction Alliance, believe that expanding access to Narcan and test strips might have a significant effect.
“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 published sources, 41 states have allowed the sale of Narcan over-the-counter.