Fentanyl Strips Could Lead to False Sense of Security

Jan 9, 2018

Health Canada has issued a warning regarding the use of commercially produced fentanyl testing strips, which, in an effort to stem the number of opioid related deaths in Canada, are being used across the country to detect opioids in street drugs. The warning comes after a preliminary laboratory study showed that fentanyl testing strips failed to detect the drug or chemically similar drugs on three separate occasions, as well as reported false positives and gave invalid results twice.

Health Canada department spokesman Eric Morrissette has suggested that due to the small testing sample size (70) and the inherent possibility of false negatives, more research is still required. Health Canada plans to apply the testing strips to more drug samples in its next phase of testing. As for the risk of false negatives in testing strips used on the street, alarms have been raised that these could “lead to a false sense of security which may result in overdose or death, [which is] particularly true for people who may choose to use drugs alone or without visiting a supervised [drug] consumption site where emergency help is immediately available.”

Health Canada is advising Canadians to treat all illegal drugs as potentially contaminated, and to take several precautions when using drugs, including not using drugs alone, using at supervised consumption sites, and making sure to have access to naloxone, which reverses overdoses.

As Morrissette notes, “”Health Canada has not licensed any drug test strips as medical devices intended for drug-checking of illegal drug samples before consumption”. To be clear, this means, specifically, strips which are used to check the drug itself, to know what it has in it, before taking it. These are not the testing strips used to check someone’s fluid for the drug present in their body, (urine or oral fluid) for which there are numerous Health Canada licensed medical devices.

While health ministries across the country have begun to distribute fentanyl testing strips to counteract the opioid crisis, the strips can only be used in supervised consumption sites and not in private homes or off-site in the community. In Ontario, the provincial government has stated that it will provide fentanyl strips “at all current supervised injection services and pop-up sites and will be evaluated for further distribution.”