Background: Synthetic opioid overdose mortality among young adults has risen more than 300% in the USA since 2013, primarily due to the contamination of heroin and other drugs with illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Rapid test strips, which can be used to detect the presence of fentanyl in drug samples (before use) or urine (after use), may help inform people about their exposure risk. The purpose of this study was to determine whether young adults who use drugs were willing to use rapid test strips as a harm reduction intervention to prevent overdose. We hypothesized that those who had ever overdosed would be more willing to use the test strips.
Methods: We recruited a convenience sample of young adults who use drugs in Rhode Island from May to September 2017. Eligible participants (aged 18 to 35 with past 30-day drug use) completed an interviewer-administered survey. The survey assessed participant's socio-demographic and behavioral characteristics, overdose risk, as well as suspected fentanyl exposure, and willingness to use take-home rapid test strips to detect fentanyl contamination in drugs or urine. Participants were then trained to use the test strips and were given ten to take home.
Results: Among 93 eligible participants, the mean age was 27 years (SD = 4.8), 56% (n = 52) of participants were male, and 56% (n = 52) were white. Over one third (n = 34, 37%) had a prior overdose. The vast majority (n = 86, 92%) of participants wanted to know if there was fentanyl in their drug supply prior to their use. Sixty-five (70%) participants reported concern that their drugs were contaminated with fentanyl. After the brief training, nearly all participants (n = 88, 95%) reported that they planned to use the test strips.
Conclusions: More than 90% of participants reported willingness to use rapid test strips regardless of having ever overdosed, suggesting that rapid fentanyl testing is an acceptable harm reduction intervention among young people who use drugs in Rhode Island. Study follow-up is ongoing to determine whether, how, and under what circumstances participants used the rapid test strips and if a positive result contributed to changes in overdose risk behavior.
Keywords: Fentanyl; Harm reduction; Opioids; Overdose; Willingness.