Why Can’t Fentanyl Strips Be Available Everywhere?

93,000 people died due to drug overdoses last year.  That figure is 21,000 more than in 2019. The drug most responsible for these deaths is a synthetic opioid fentanyl.  Fifty to one hundred times stronger than morphine, it takes just 3 mg. to kill a person.

Yet, it is difficult to detect unless you are performing an autopsy of the overdosed. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently warned that fentanyl is appearing in an increasing number of counterfeit prescription pills that are made to resemble Adderall, Oxycodone or Xanax. The pills have reduced amounts of what they are supposed to have because the cartels are cutting costs by mixing the substances with a cheaper alternative: fentanyl. Law enforcement investigations of drugs that are tested do not show the full picture because they often lack analyses of cutting agents that are mixed with the drugs.

Last September, the Biden Administration asked Congress to permanently classify all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule 1 drugs, considered the highest risk for abuse and dependence. President Biden’s broad plan is to tackle the opioid crisis with billions of dollars to support law enforcement efforts to curb the influx of fentanyl and other illegal drugs. The DEA seized 1.8 million counterfeit pills and arrested more than 800 suspect drug traffickers in August and September. Biden also would expand prevention and treatment services.

Fentanyl Strips

This past April, the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced that states and territories could begin using federal funding to purchase rapid fentanyl test strips for research, clinical or public health purposes. Yet, the decision to use them is left to the states.  For example, in Pennsylvania, lawmakers restrict access to fentanyl test strips.  Although a Republican and a Democrat introduced bills that would legalize the test strips, the bills remain in the House Committee despite endorsement from the Centers for Disease Control.

The bills would have legalized the test strips for personal use, but in Pennsylvania, as well as twenty-nine other states, fentanyl test strips are regarded as drug paraphernalia as they are used to test illicit substances. Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Arizona have legalized the strips.

In a Virginia County, fentanyl test strips were given to released inmates along with a box of overdose-reversing naloxone nasal spray for “harm reduction,” an overdose prevention program started in Canada.

Here’s How They Work

The test strips originally acted like at-home pregnancy tests.  They detected fentanyl in urine. Now, Opioid users dissolve a small amount of their drug, typically powder or crushed pill in water, then submerge the strip for at least ten seconds.  It detects in pills, powder or injectables.

After submersion,  the user places it on a flat surface to dry, according to an information sheet from the Cook County Health Department in Illinois.  In 1 to 2 minutes, results are available.  One line typically indicates the presence of fentanyl.  It’s fast, easy, and cheap, however, not without drawbacks.

Disadvantages of The Fentanyl Strip

According to a May report from the non-profit legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association, strips only measure whether fentanyl is present at all, not the quantity or potency of fentanyl that’s present in the drug.  Fentanyl can contaminate other drugs such as heroin or cocaine and evade detection. It also can “cross-react” with methamphetamines and yield uncertain results.

While fentanyl strips aren’t perfect, it’s better than overdosing as so many have done.

Maybe, just maybe, if an opioid user knew in advance that the drug he was considering contained fentanyl, he might go to a “harm reduction center” at which he would be monitored by medical professionals while using drugs so he wouldn’t die.

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.


  1. Lesley Starbuck on October 29, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    Thank you for this information. I didn’t know there were fentanyl test strips. I would hope that an opioid drug user would go to a “harm reduction center” after his test strip was positive. These test strips are an important advancement and I hope more states will legalize them.

  2. Wesley Davidson on October 29, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    Thank you for commenting. The fentanyl strips do make sense as do the “harm reduction centers.” However, with the stigma of addiction, not everyone agrees.

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