County’s new program distributes free fentanyl test strips to reduce overdose deaths | Cincinnati News | Cincinnati


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Photo: Hamilton County YouTube

Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman announces the county’s free fentanyl test strip program on May 10, 2022.

Hamilton County now has another weapon in the fight against fentanyl-related deaths.

At the Hamilton County Commissioners meeting on May 10, Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman announced county residents can now request free fentanyl test strip kits by texting “FTS” to 22999. Test strips are free and no name is required to receive them – just an address.

Fentanyl is a legal and potent opioid that frequently causes overdose deaths when misused. It’s often mixed with illegal substances like cocaine and heroin, and many users aren’t sure if what they’re taking contains fentanyl.

Kesterman said Hamilton County residents who plan to use illegal substances can test those substances first to see if fentanyl is present, noting the county’s goal is to prevent deaths. He said fentanyl was “extremely lethal”.

“The key is for people to use these test strips before they use any type of illegal substance. Obviously it’s best that someone doesn’t use the illegal substance, but if someone has made the purchase, he certainly plans to use it. By testing, they are able to change their behavior,” Kesterman told the commissioners at the first-ever National Fentanyl Awareness Day in the United States.

As noted in CityBeatOn the cover of the April fentanyl story, the standard protocol for testing a batch of drugs is to dissolve a small amount of the drug in water and dip a test strip in it for 15 seconds. The strip is then placed on a flat surface for five minutes, when colored lines will indicate whether or not fentanyl is present. Typically, one line means there is fentanyl in the drug and two lines mean there isn’t, but the packaging will show instructions and how to determine if the test was valid.

Kesterman said the simple act of testing drugs for fentanyl can change someone’s trajectory.

“Through the work of my team over the past few years, we’ve actually known that 75% of people who use a test strip change their behavior. They can choose to use it with someone else who can help save them if they have a bad reaction to fentanyl, they could choose not to use it at all, or they could make sure they have Narcan (a brand name for naloxone, a nasal spray used to stop a drug overdose) before using this substance,” Kesterman said.

“Obviously our number one goal 100% of the time is to get people into treatment, but we know that sometimes people use it (recreationally) and won’t have access to treatment or choose to getting treatment because they don’t feel like they’re addicted, so that’s another tool to help keep people alive,” Kesterman continued.

According to Harm Reduction Ohio, a nonprofit that tracks Ohio drug data, 35.9% of Ohio’s illicit drugs contained fentanyl in the last quarter of 2021, an increase of 10 % compared to the beginning of the year. AmandaLynn Reese, Director of Outreach and Engagement for Harm Reduction Ohio, said CityBeat in April that supplies of common party drugs — like cocaine — mixed with fentanyl snuck up on those casually taking hits.

Click to enlarge Hamilton County is offering free fentanyl test strips via text message.  - PHOTO: ALLISON BABKA

Photo: Allison Babka

Hamilton County is offering free fentanyl test strips via text message.

Fentanyl is tasteless and colorless, with no discernible odor or characteristics, which is why Reese encourages those who use drugs to test their batches before using them.

“We know people use recreationally and don’t know what they’re using because they’re buying it off the street. Then those test strips can become lifesavers,” said Denise Driehaus, one of the Hamilton County Commissioners, to Kesterman at the Gathering. “I have Narcan in my purse but I don’t have test strips so it’s interesting to look at them and see how easy they are to use for someone who may have received a pill from a friend or something and who needs to know what’s in that pill.”

Kesterman said when Hamilton County residents text “FTS” to 22999, they receive three links. One link leads to a fentanyl test strip request form, one contains instructions for using the strips, and another contains information on where people outside of Hamilton County can obtain strips through the initiative. SOAR.

CityBeat went through the procedure for requesting fentanyl test strips via text message on May 12. The request form asked for an address where the county can send the test strips; it didn’t ask for a name associated with that address. Users will be required to affirm that they have read the instructions for use of the strips.

Overdoses from party drugs containing fentanyl have become a growing problem in Cincinnati, Hamilton County and elsewhere in recent years. Harm Reduction Ohio officials say about 5,300 Ohioans died of drug overdoses in 2021, and 1,497 of those deaths were cocaine-related. Mortality data from the Ohio Department of Health shows that at least 1,083 of those cocaine-related deaths were caused by blended fentanyl.

Hamilton County is one of the top 10 counties in Ohio for cocaine overdose deaths, according to data analyzed by Harm Reduction Ohio. reese said CityBeat in April that at least 15.2% of cocaine examined by the state crime lab contained fentanyl in 2021, so there’s no way to know what you’re buying without testing.

Ohio crime lab data shows an increase in fentanyl appearing in other drugs early in the pandemic, rising from 21.8% to 29.5% in the second quarter of 2020. This number has remained stable until at the end of 2021, when lacing hit a record high of 35.9%.

“We see it in squeezed pills that feel very real,” Reese said. “We see Adderall and Xanax and painkillers of all kinds that contain fentanyl. Cocaine is often mixed with fentanyl, methamphetamine is often mixed with fentanyl. People don’t know that’s what they use. People who have smoked crack for 30 years discover fentanyl without knowing it.

In an effort to help reduce overdoses, bar and restaurant owners and managers have contacted Harm Reduction Ohio for Narcan training, and many are making fentanyl test strips available to customers.

Harm Reduction Ohio offers free naloxone and fentanyl test strips on its website. Participants must complete a training video to place an order. Those looking for in-person training and supplies can email CCS at [email protected].

Naloxone and test strips are also available from other local organizations and even pharmacies. The Greater Cincinnati HIV/AIDS service organization, Caracole, has a 24/7 harm reduction supply vending machine at its Northside headquarters that dispenses free naloxone and test strips. test. New users must complete a survey before obtaining a 90-day access code. The aforementioned SOAR program will also send out five free fentanyl test strips through its website thesoarinitiative.org.

Pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens also dispense naloxone, although it’s not free. Many insurance companies will pay or reimburse people for brand-name and generic naloxone, but those without insurance must pay between $90 and $140, pharmacists say. CityBeat.

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