“You smoke weed?” Eufamia Lopez asked young men lounging on benches in a public housing courtyard in the South Bronx. Lopez, who works for a New York University health support program, told them that street drugs — meth, coke, molly, Xanax, heroin and even marijuana — are being cut with fentanyl these days, which can kill. You can test your supply before using it to see whether there’s any fentanyl in it. She was giving out free kits. After she recited simple instructions, each man readily accepted a kit with three fentanyl test strips. The spread of fentanyl, a cheap synthetic opioid 50 times as lethal as heroin, into most kinds of illicit drugs has pushed fatal overdoses to record highs. Fentanyl test strips have become a popular but contentious tool in response. Supporters say they help drug users make lifesaving decisions. Opponents contend that they facilitate drug use, the New York Times reports.
Test strips are a part of a broader harm reduction approach, which holds that ending the overdose crisis can be achieved by first ameliorating the deadliest risks of drug use, then taking steps to curb behavior, such as addiction treatment. President Biden is the first president to embrace harm reduction. He has made fentanyl test strips a key component in his proposed $307 million harm-reduction drug-control strategy. Within the past year, about 10 states — including Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, where hard-line abstinence views are more typically favored — have legalized test strips. Test strips are illegal in about 20 states — including Florida, Texas, Kansas and Kentucky — classified as “drug paraphernalia.” Critics say test strips encourage drug use by giving users the green light if the supply is free of fentanyl. To some opponents, the test strips are even more objectionable than other forms of harm reduction, like distributions of clean syringes, because those at least prevent the spread of H.I.V., hepatitis and other dangerous infections.