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California college campuses look to fentanyl testing strips as a solution to stop overdoses

Updated: Aug 1, 2022


LOS ANGELES - "Fentanyl was new to the scene and I don’t think he knew the strength of it. He thought it was ok to smoke and it wasn’t," said Juli Shamash.

The Brentwood mother co-founded the organization "Moms Against Drugs" after losing her 19-year-old son Tyler to a fentanyl overdose in 2018.

"Drugs are really prevalent on college campuses. Cocaine is making a resurgence and kids need to know if they’re going to do it, they need to have Narcan nearby and they have to have testing strips," said Shamash.

Fentanyl testing strips can be used to test powders, pills and injectables for the presence of the synthetic opioid. A drug user can take a small quantity of the substance, add water, and dip a strip briefly into the solution. If one red stripe appears on the strip, fentanyl is present; two stripes mean none of that drug is found.

"We’ve distributed about 10,000 to students on campus and have done outreach to about 3,000 students," said UCLA graduate Gianna Uy.

Uy started a harm reduction chapter at UCLA to prevent fentanyl overdoses.

"We’ve also trained over 1,200 students on how to recognize an overdose, what to do if you see an overdose and how to respond to that," she said.

Nonprofits such as End Overdose have launched programs to help prevent overdoses among young people by distributing testing strips and spreading awareness on the opioid crisis.

"We are now training high school and college campuses. People should know what to do during an overdose and how to respond to this type of situation. A simple 20-minute training can change that," said Theo Krzywicki, the CEO of End Overdose.

Fentanyl test devices — which have historically been banned under drug paraphernalia laws — remain illegal in about half of states, according to drug policy experts.

Governors in New Mexico and Wisconsin this year signed bills allowing test strips in those states, and legislatures in Tennessee and Alabama recently passed similar legislation.

While Pennsylvania state law prohibits test strips, the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have ordered bans on prosecuting people possessing them. Alaska state health officials have started giving out free test strips.

California residents who have seen loved ones die from fentanyl overdoses support making the testing strips more available.

"The pressed pills that are being manufactured contain fentanyl a lot of the time because it’s cheaper and easier to manufacture. You need a much smaller amount to get the same effect as a Percocet and because of this, the lethal dose of fentanyl is about the size of a sesame seed," said Naturopathic Doctor Mary Pardee.

In 2018, Dr. Pardee lost her partner to a fentanyl overdose a day after his 33rd birthday.

"Ian was somebody that wanted to leave everyone smiling. He ran a fishing academy for children. He’s somebody you wouldn’t think had mental health issues," said Pardee.

Synthetic opioids — including fentanyl — were involved in about two-thirds of U.S. drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period that ended in November 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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