Mind and Body

Task Force gets schooled on how to use fentanyl test strips

Hands-on presentation by a member of the recovery community breaks new ground in the discussion of harm reduction strategies

Photo by Richard Asinof

Dr. Jef Bratberg from URI, a member of the Governor's Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Intervention, inspects the fentanyl test strip with a negative reading at the Sept. 12 meeting.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 9/17/18
The hands-on demonstration of how to use a fentanyl test strip at the Sept. 12 meeting of the Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Intervention turned out to be a real eye-opener for many members.
Would a demonstration of how a fentanyl test strip works for the news media help to reduce misinformation and misunderstanding about this harm reduction strategy? Would the candidates running for Governor in 2018 be willing to attend on forum on the opioid epidemic in Rhode Island? When will the diseases of death – deaths from alcohol, suicide and drugs – be addressed in a comprehensive fashion, instead of in silos? Would CVS be willing to sell fentanyl test strips at their pharmacies?
Despite reporting by ConvergenceRI in April of 2017, detailing how the facility in Coventry owned by Purdue Pharma was producing some 750 tons a years of the raw ingredient of oxycodone, used in the prescription painkiller OxyContin, the rest of the news media in Rhode Island ignored the story – until recent national news reporting linked the facility as being the likely place where Purdue Pharma will manufacture its new patented formula of buprenorphine.
The folks that brought you the addictive prescription opioid painkiller OxyContin are now seeking to make money off one of the drugs used in medication-assisted treatment.


PROVIDENCE – Everything was going as planned as part of the discussion around harm reduction strategies at the Wednesday, Sept. 12 meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Intervention.

There were two reports, chock full of evidence-based findings. The first was a presentation on the findings of a three-year naloxone intervention study by Traci Green, Ph.D., and Jeanette Baird, Ph.D.; the second, a presentation by Jef Bratberg, PharmD, clinical professor at the University of Rhode Island, detailing the impact of the state’s co-prescription regulations.

The reports were important, substantial, somewhat clinical in nature, and meaningful in a wonkish way because they provided evidence about the best practices to reduce the stigma around pharmacists prescribing naloxone.

Changing the tenor
Then the entire tenor of the meeting changed, when four recovery community members took center stage to talk about the introduction of fentanyl test strips in Rhode Island.

The distribution of fentanyl test strips was made legal under the Good Samaritan Law under legislation passed by the R.I. General Assembly in the 2018 session. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Widespread distribution of fentanyl test strips to begin in RI.”]

First, Diego Arene-Morley of RICARES, refusing to use the microphone, stepped into the center area, talking about the need to redefine the concept of harm reduction, not just a pathway to recovery, but as a pathway to health and wellness, engaging with members of the Task Force in direct questions and answers.

Arene-Morley then cited the findings of a study conducted on the efficacy of fentanyl strips and the fact that they were found to be 98 percent accurate, and that they modified the behavior of illicit drug users. And, that they only cost $1.

Hands-on training
Then, in dramatic fashion, Michael Galipeau from the Rhode Island Users Union did a hands-on training demonstration of how to use a fentanyl test strip, right in front of members of the task force, explaining the process step by step, and then sharing the results of the test strip, which were negative. The test strip was then passed around for task force members to inspect.

A third member of the recovery community talked about the difficulty of overcoming stigma in coverage in the news media, using the example of what she alleged was slanted TV coverage of the recent International Overdose Awareness Day events in numerous communities across Rhode Island.

As part of the outreach activities, some 1,000 fentanyl test strips had been made available for distribution, as a way to meet people where they are. In addition to the test strips, naloxone kits were also distributed. A total of 320 fentanyl strips were distributed on Overdose Awareness Day, along with 140 naloxone kits.

The next steps
Another 3,000 fentanyl test strips are in process of being order, and the company that manufactures them has agreed to include coding that will allow for self-reporting data collection of the results.

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