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Harford Health Department applies for 2,000 kits to test for fentanyl in heroin, opioids

Fentanyl test strips can be used by people who do drugs to test for the dangerous opioid fentanyl so they can avoid the drug or otherwise lower their risk of overdose death.
Fentanyl test strips can be used by people who do drugs to test for the dangerous opioid fentanyl so they can avoid the drug or otherwise lower their risk of overdose death. (Allison Shelley/HANDOUT)

The Harford County Health Department has applied to the state for 2,000 kits that will test for fentanyl in opioids and other drugs.

If the health department receives the strips, it intends to distribute 20 each to 100 drug users as part of a pilot program, said Molly Mraz, a heath department spokesperson.

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“We know we’re not going to deter people from using in general, but we’re hoping to reach more people who are using opioids so we can educate them on treatment and recovery efforts in Harford County if and when they are ready to seek treatment,” Mraz said.

The Maryland Department of Health has purchased about 66,000 fentanyl test strip kits at $1 each and plans to begin distributing about 60,000 of them to various county health departments, including Harford, and local organizations.

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Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips said the department expects to deliver the kits throughout the state by the end of the month and will be offering them free to local jurisdictions, which will allocate them for distribution based on requests.

“There are people who continue to overdose … and have not understood that what they were buying was not what they were used to buying,” Phillips said.

Mraz did not have details on how the strips work, but said the strips are dipped into the drugs and will indicate if they contain fentanyl.

She said it’s not going to slow addicts using drugs, but it could help users create a relationship with the health department. It could also save lives by alerting the users to the presence of fentanyl.

“It’s not going to stop their using at all, but should they decide want to go to treatment, we’re there to help them navigate the system,” Mraz said.

The Sheriff’s Office, Harford County Government, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, the Health Department and other community partners have initiated numerous efforts to battle the epidemic.]

Those efforts have included a 24-hour crisis hotline, a soon-to-open crisis center, Narcan doses carried by all deputies, tally boards noting the number of fatal and non-fatal overdoses, the HOPE group — which has spearheaded a number of programs, and the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Unit at the Harford County Detention Center.

“While we are not a part of the program and have not been briefed as to the specifics, we are always anxious to hear about new programs that are created to save lives and reduce overdoses during this opioid epidemic,” Cristie Hopkins, director of media relations for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said he also supports the program.

“If it saves lives, I don’t see a problem with it,” Glassman said. “If it saves lives, it’s worth trying.”

Most of the heroin on the street contains fentanyl, he said, and some of the drugs contain more fentanyl than heroin.

“It can’t hurt to check it,” Glassman said.

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One of the drawbacks, he said, is when users are in the throes of their addiction, they want the highest high, and “they want fentanyl in their mix. Some people argue you’re giving them a tool to make sure their fix does have fentanyl.”

“There’s always a positive and negative to this,” Glassman said. “The overarching goal is to save lives. Not matter if it’s abused or not, the bottom line is to save lives.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Phil Davis contributed to this article.

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