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'Drug Checking' Is An Analytical Tool To Reduce Users' Risks

As deaths from drug overdoses have hit record highs, claiming an estimated 107,000 lives last year across the U.S., many public health advocates, researchers and activists are pushing to help people find out what is in their drugs and use that knowledge to reduce their risk, the Los Angeles Times reports. Fentanyl, the powerful synthetic drug that has driven up opioid overdoses, can be detected simply with test strips. As the drug market has grown increasingly messy and complex, many want to go further, analyzing the makeup of illegal drugs with more sophisticated tools to identify new dangers. However, drug deaths are often tied to more than one drug. "We've used forensic chemistry for decades to tell people what's in drugs after it's too late," said Nabarun Dasgupta, scientist at the University of North Carolina. "What we're trying to do is no wait that long."

Such drug checking has often been inhibited by laws prohibiting drug paraphernalia. Researchers and advocates still use methods to help others and drug check what people are using. In North Carolina, a community group analyzes the content of drugs using a technique called FTIR - Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy - with a machine roughly the size of a toaster oven. Also in North Carolina, researchers have built a program that allows drug samples to be mailed in and analyzed from across the country using a kit with a swab and vial of organic solvent that makes the sample "unusable" in the eyes of federal authorities. California is planning to have a program that runs samples through an FTIR machine, producing a rundown detailing their drug makeup in 15 minutes. Some states have begun to decriminalize fentanyl testing strips and North Carolina law allows “drug testing equipment. “The goal of harm reduction is to meet drug users where they are,” said Shayna Gaffen, whose brother died from a fentanyl overdose, “so they can live long enough to start to imagine a different reality.”


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