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Fentanyl test strips could make a difference in the fight against overdose deaths

A pilot program in Tennessee showed 81% of people who used the test strips changed their behavior. State leaders hope that trend will continue.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — East Tennessee will soon have another tool to combat the overdose crisis. Metro Drug Coalition said it's expecting to receive its first shipment of fentanyl test strips in the next month or two.

"We've got to help them however we can," said Anthony Jackson Jr., the director of prevention and early intervention services for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. "This is a tool. It's not the tool, but it's a tool that we're very happy to be able to provide to the state."

Fentanyl strips can determine whether a substance has the deadly drug in a matter of minutes. A pilot program in Tennessee showed that 81% of people who used the test strips changed their behavior. 

"It was interesting because it wasn't just, 'We use less,'" Jackson said. "No, it was, 'I decided not to use.'"

State leaders hope that trend will continue as the test strips get distributed elsewhere, like East Tennessee.

It's possible because state legislators recently passed a law that removed fentanyl test strips from the drug paraphernalia category.

"That's a point of decision there where they could either use less of the drug, decide to throw the drug out completely or [throw] that batch out," Metro Drug Coalition Executive Director Karen Pershing said. "[They could] use with somebody present, use less or make sure that they have Naloxone available."

Pershing said MDC's team of educators will eventually distribute it during training sessions like they do with Narcan.

"We're seeing more and more overdose deaths with fentanyl and fentanyl-analogs laced in," Pershing said. "It's a huge problem."

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