WCA distributes fentanyl test strips to reduce chances of overdose deaths

The Wrangell Cooperative Association is taking steps to reduce the harm caused by fentanyl, opiates and other illegal drugs by providing free resources to community members experiencing addiction.

As of Sept. 26, fentanyl test strips are available at the WCA office, Irene Ingle Public Library and the upstairs bathroom at the Kadin Building, where the state’s part-time Public Health Office is located.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than morphine, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Since it is cheaper and more addictive than other opioids, it is frequently mixed into other drugs like heroin and methamphetamines.

Even illegally purchased marijuana may contain fentanyl. Users may not know that they are consuming the substance, since it is impossible to taste, see or smell when it is mixed into other drugs.

Even small doses can be deadly; over 150 people die from overdoses of synthetic opioids like fentanyl daily, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though Police Chief Tom Radke does not have “scientific proof” that fentanyl has made its way to Wrangell, “I’m sure it’s here,” he said. “It would be foolish to say it’s not.”

The drug is becoming more prevalent everywhere, he added, and “it’s in a lot of things people don’t think it’s in.”

Testing illicit drugs for fentanyl is one of the only ways to tell whether they have been laced with the substance. WCA purchased a pack of 100 fentanyl-testing “Safe Strips” using SEARHC funds and has distributed them throughout the community as a form of harm reduction.

“Harm reduction is a way to reduce the amount of deaths or harms to somebody who is in active addiction,” explained Tl’átk – Earth Branch Coordinator Alex Angerman, who started the program. “Instead of a treatment center here, which we don’t have, we’re doing what we can as an entity to be able to reduce the harm that comes with having an active addiction.”

Harm reduction methods seek to meet individuals with substance use disorders where they’re at by minimizing the negative consequences associated with using. These programs are not intended to enable drug use — rather, they aim to save people’s lives, mitigate risks and encourage people to seek treatment when they’re ready, according to SAFE Project, a national nonprofit dedicated to preventing overdoses.

To use a fentanyl test strip, crush a small amount of the substance — about the size of a grain of rice or match head — and add it to a half shot glass of water. For stimulants like methamphetamines, cocaine or MDMA, add it to a full shot glass, which holds about nine teaspoons of liquid.

Dissolve the powder into the water, then hold the test strip under the water for 10 seconds and remove it. After 60 seconds, one or two red lines should appear on the strip. One line means that the substance contains fentanyl; two lines mean that it does not.

Just because a substance tests negative, however, does not mean that it is safe to use. Some portions of a drug may contain fentanyl while others might not. Also, fentanyl-like drugs such as carfentanil or xylazine, which are also linked to overdose deaths, may not appear on the strip.

Even unlaced opioids can cause overdoses, so health care officials recommend having naloxone, also known as Narcan, readily available, and never using alone. Narcan is available at the police station, SEARHC behavioral health center, hospital, KSTK and WCA office.

Angerman introduced the test strip program after losing a close family member to a fentanyl overdose. “I want the community to be aware,” she said. “Anything that I can personally do to help spread awareness of fentanyl use is important to me and my family.”

She believes that the stigma around addiction can make it difficult for people to seek treatment and access resources. “We all have people in our family that do suffer from addiction,” she said.

If a person is interested in accessing resources for addiction recovery, they can speak to any WCA employee for more information.


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