Maryland to see increase in fentanyl drug testing strips

Dr. Susan Sherman

FROSTBURG — Since drug checking recently became legal in Maryland, there will be an increase in the number of drug testing strips that will be used to test illicit substances for traces of fentanyl. 

“This year in the state of Maryland, as of June 1, drug checking is legal. It is now exempt from drug paraphernalia laws,” said Dr. Susan Sherman, professor of health, behavior and society at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

Sherman spoke via video during The Greater Cumberland Committee’s Drug Symposium at Frostburg State University on Friday.

“Drug checking tests for the purity or presences of an adulterant like fentanyl,” Sherman said. “One of the reasons drug checking is so important is because it provides insight into a product that people know very little about.”

A research center in Baltimore is giving out the fentanyl testing strips to study how people use them and how it affects drug use, according to Sherman. 

The Fentanyl Overdose Reduction Checking Analysis Study (FORECAST), which was conducted by the Bloomberg School, examined the accuracy of three technologies utilized in identifying the presence of fentanyl in samples of illicit drugs. The study also gauged whether drug users and stakeholders would be interested in using fentanyl drug testing as part of a harm reduction program.

Part of the study surveyed services providers in Baltimore, Boston and Rhode Island to see how they felt about implementing drug checking in their services.

“People were overwhelmingly in support,” Sherman said. “The only concerns were that of legality ...”

During the study, 355 people were surveyed and 70 percent of respondents reported that knowing that their drugs contained fentanyl would lead them to modify their behavior.

One recommendation from the study suggests that public health and harm reduction agencies should implement anonymous drug checking to save lives. The fentanyl testing strips could be utilized in a supervised setting or could be provided to drug users in an outreach context.

Another recommendation suggests harm reduction counseling, health education and connection to services, including treatment for substance use disorder should be a part of the drug checking program.

Drug checking has been implemented in public health context for the past three decades, according to Sherman.

Sherman also spoke about Syringe Service Programs, which are community-based programs that provide access to sterile needles and syringes free of cost and facilitate safe disposal of used needles and syringes. Those programs have led to the reductions in HIV and Heptiatis B and C, reductions in fatal overdose deaths and an increase in drug treatment and other services, said Sherman. 

“In the event of this new opioid crisis, there has been a great increase in the number of Syringe Service Programs in the U.S.,” said Sherman. 

SSPs have not been found to be associated with increased rates, illicit drug use, discarded syringes or permissive attitudes toward students in schools located near SSPs, according to Sherman

“None of these have ever shown to be true,” she said. 

This is the second drug symposium that was held and more than 200 experts in a variety of fields attended last year’s event. 

Follow staff writer Elaine Blaisdell on Twitter @eblaisdell. 

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