The Howard Center’s Safe Recovery addiction-treatment program has begun passing out free test strips that alert opioid users to the presence of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is to blame for 146 deaths in Vermont since 2016, when it overtook heroin and prescription painkillers as the most deadly opioid in the state. The potent synthetic has already killed 30 people in Vermont in 2018, more than heroin and prescription opioids combined, according to state data.

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George said test strips can save lives. Opioid users have no other way to know if the cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine they are using is spiked with fentanyl until it’s too late.

“We have worked hard locally to approach this epidemic from many fronts and will continue to do so until we can reduce the number of people dying from overdose,” George said.

In 2016, 46 percent of fatal overdoses in the US involved fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, up from 14 percent in 2010, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“A lack of awareness about the potency of synthetic opioids, their availability and the increasing adulteration of the illicit drug supply poses substantial risks to individual and public health,” the researchers concluded.

The testing strips work by dipping them into a mixture of the drug and water. One lines indicates the presence of fentanyl; two lines means it’s not present

Research published this month in Harm Reduction Journal reported that young adults who use drugs were willing to use test strips to prevent overdose. 

Grace Keller, coordinator at Safe Recovery, said the strips may draw more people into treatment.

“We already provide sterile, safe injection supplies and distribute free and anonymous Narcan overdose reversal kits,” Keller said. “Distributing the test strips is one more opportunity to provide support to our clients and talk to them about drug treatment options and other services, like HIV and Hepatitis C testing.”