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Columbus addiction recovery center considers fentanyl test strips in opioid battle

People are dying from a drug they didn't know they used: fentanyl. Because of this, an addiction recovery center is considering giving the public free test strips.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — It's a new way to save lives in the opioid crisis: testing illegal drugs for especially deadly ingredients. A local addiction recovery center is now considering making them available to the public.

Bartholomew County, like many communities, is seeing record overdoses from opioids. In and around Columbus, that's been the case for at least the past two years.

The surge is blamed in part on fentanyl sneaking into other drugs on the streets. People are dying from something they didn't even know they were using.

"There's fentanyl in marijuana. There's fentanyl in pain pills that you're buying on the street. There's fentanyl in almost everything," said Matthew Neville, director of operations for ASAP (Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress), an addiction recovery center in Columbus.

Since fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin, it's much more likely to kill. And right now, drugs on the streets are much more likely to be laced with fentanyl.

That's why recovery groups like ASAP are now looking into a new strategy to save lives: fentanyl test strips that work like a pH strip in chemistry class, detecting what's in a drug.

"It's a strip that you can put in the drug that will tell you whether or not fentanyl is present," Neville explained.

Just like Narcan and Naloxone boxes, which are located at the library and United Way in Bartholomew County, ASAP envisions potentially putting the test strips out for the public, for free.

Narcan, an antidote for a heroin overdose.

They're still in early conversations and say it's an idea they plan to discuss with city and county leaders soon.

"How do we have some harm reduction strategies that really give us the ability to keep people alive? Because we know as long as you're still alive, you can still find recovery," Neville said. "We keep people alive through Narcan and through other harm reduction methods until they're really ready to make that change and come to the ASAP hub and find some help."

Overdose Lifeline, a nonprofit in Indianapolis, has been providing fentanyl test strips publicly since mid-August. People can order the test kits for free online.

Outreach street teams distribute them, too.

So far, they've distributed 7,596 tests in Marion County and 26,000 statewide.

"It's not the perfect solution, but it's important. No matter what it is you believe you have, the likelihood that there's fentanyl is very high and you need to determine that by testing. It's too dangerous right now. You have to just really know that this is lethal and can absolutely kill you unbeknownst to you," said Justin Phillips, executive director of Overdose Lifeline.

Phillips says one outreach team member saw the test prevent danger in real-time, during a presentation to Hoosier teenagers at a school in northern Indiana.

"A student came up to her afterward and said, 'I bought some Adderall can you help me test it?' And there was fentanyl in that, what was believed to be, Adderall," Phillips said.

To learn more about the test strips, how they work and how to get them, click here. To learn about ASAP recovery services, click here.

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