The Vermont Department of Health is launching a major ad campaign urging people using illicit drugs to get fentanyl test strips.

The latest fatal overdose numbers show that 217 Vermonters died in 2021, the highest number on record. The Health Department says the numbers are too high and they hope the test strips will help lower them.

As the fentanyl crisis continues, the campaign “Know OD Vermont” put out two messages reinforcing the signs and symptoms of an overdose and encourages people to use test strips to know fentanyl is present.

“Fentanyl test strips have been an important tool in our overdose prevention strategy,” said Nicole Rau Mitiguy, Substance Misuse Prevention Manager for the Vermont Department of Health.

In 2022, the Health Department is reporting 94 deaths and the majority of those overdose deaths are linked to fentanyl. “This remains true even with an increase in seeing fentanyl involved in many overdoses in Vermont,” said Mitiguy.

The Health Department is urging Vermonters to test drugs like cocaine, meth, and other powder or pills like Adderall before using.

“They are definitely life saving, we have heard of individuals who have adjusted maybe how much they are using or ensuing they have folks who are in the room with them when they see fentanyl is present in the drug they are going to consume,” said Mitiguy.

At the Rutland Regional Medical Center, Dr. Saeed Ahmed sees patients with significant fentanyl overdoses. “We were seeing a lot of folks coming in that would tell us they were not even really aware if they were using fentanyl in any opioids.”

In a number of cases, Dr. Ahmed says the animal tranquilizer xylazine is being laced with fentanyl and it has required very large amounts of Narcan. “We have to use several multiple frequent uses of Narcan and people don’t survive people don’t come out of overdose and the reason is fentanyl and xylazine.”

Using the strips can be life-saving if there is fentanyl present but what is concerning is that they can’t detect other drugs like xylazine.

Test strips can be found at a local recovery center.