ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – University of New Mexico pharmacy students and faculty are highlighting their efforts geared at helping people identify fentanyl on the street. Over the past year, the group has distributed thousands of fentanyl test strips in New Mexico, hoping to help people identify when the drug is mixed into other drugs.
“The goal is harm reduction,” said UNM College of Pharmacy Amy Bachyrycz, PharmD, RPH, speaking of the group’s work. “It’s not a fix to the fentanyl issue; it’s a way to prevent death.”
Called “Operation Substance Use Disorders Initiative” (OSUD), the program is part of UNM’s College of Pharmacy. The test strips use a color coded system to identify the presence of fentanyl being used as an adulterant in other street drugs.
When dipped into liquid containing fentanyl, a single pink line on the left-side of the test strip indicates the drug has been detected. Two pink lines mean fentanyl has not been detected.
Acknowledging illicit drug use on the street, UNM Health Sciences said in a recent news release about the test strips, “because of its potency and low cost, drug dealers will often mix fentanyl with other recreational drugs including heroin, methamphetamine and MDMA.” “A grain of salt” worth of fentanyl, according to the DEA, or as little as two milligrams can be a fatal dose for most people. The drug is said to be roughly 100 times more potent than morphine.
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The test strip distribution work comes as advocates on both local and federal levels have continued to ramp up their work over the last year to both crackdown on fentanyl use and distribution, and inform the public about the synthetic opioid. A regional DEA spokesman told KRQE News 13’s New Mexico News Podcast about the dangers of the drug in a 2022 episode. Bernalillo County has also created newer public service commercials to discuss the harm fentanyl can do.
Over the last year, the UNM College of Pharmacy OSUD program has distributed fentanyl test strips at seven different community outreach events and health fairs. The University did not say how many test strips have been given out, but say they’ve spoken to roughly 3,000 people at those events.
“We encourage everybody to take them, because you never know when it could be useful,” said Maria Ybargüengoitia Agüero, a UNM College of Pharmacy student. “When people take small amounts of [fentanyl,] it can send them into an overdose. That’s why we’ve seen such an increase in accidental deaths, because people don’t know that fentanyl is basically in everything.”
The group is hoping to broaden its test strip distribution efforts over the next year amid a recent change in federal policy. UNMH says the feds have removed a funding restriction on tests that should allow more groups to use grant dollars on fentanyl test strips moving forward.