Simple test strip can help save lives

There isn’t any proof that fentanyl has made its way to Wrangell, but Police Chief Tom Radke has no doubt that the drug is present in the community. “I’m sure it’s here,” he says. “It would be foolish to say it’s not.”

It also would be foolish for people who use illegal drugs to assume fentanyl is not in whatever they are about to use. “It’s in a lot of things people don’t think it’s in,” Radke says.

And because the synthetic opioid could be mixed in with other illegal drugs like heroin and methamphetamines — even black-market marijuana — and because fentanyl can kill, the Wrangell Cooperative Association is stepping up to make free test strips available in town to help drug users avoid unknowingly harming themselves.

In 2021 and 2022, more than 500 Alaskans died of an opioid overdose, with fentanyl responsible for the majority of those deaths, according to the data from the Alaska Department of Health.

Nationwide, the statistics are even grimmer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than two thirds of the reported 107,081 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2022 involved synthetic opioids, mostly illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Fentanyl has no taste or smell, and a tiny amount can cause an overdose and lead to death. The test strips can identify drugs laced with fentanyl.

Much of the problem is because users don’t know what’s in the drugs they buy. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills it analyzed in 2022, six in 10 contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.

The test strips are not intended as a drug treatment tool or an addiction-breaking therapy. The intent is to help keep a user alive until they decide to get help.

The 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.

“I want the community to be aware,” said WCA Tl’átk – Earth Branch Coordinator Alex Angerman, who lost a close family member to a fentanyl overdose. “Anything that I can personally do to help spread awareness of fentanyl use is important to me and my family.”

She’s right. Anything that helps prevent deaths, promote awareness and help users stay alive until they come in for help is good. It’s good for the individual, their family and the community.

Thank you to the WCA for raising the issue and providing help.

— Wrangell Sentinel

 

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