Fentanyl test strips were decriminalized in Ohio in early 2023, making it easier to ensure safety when it comes to drug usage.
Fentanyl test strips are slips of paper that detect fentanyl in a multitude of drugs such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana. The usage of the strips will vary between substances, but in order to test most substances, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises mixing a small amount of the drug with water and inserting the test strip into the mixture.
Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith said about 75% of drugs are laced with fentanyl.
“What we found is most drugs, I'm talking 75 or 80%, are laced with fentanyl,” Smith said. “It depends on the mixture … so (the stips) could be a false sense of security and I wouldn't want people to think that just because they tested a drug or a product, it's going to be safe.”
If the strips come out positive after testing, Smith said there are ways to report it to the Sheriff’s Office, but measures taken vary from case to case.
“We have a drug task force, we have a tip line or they can call the Sheriff's Office directly,” Smith said. “If somebody called and they had a test strip and they found fentanyl, we would send an officer out there and we would also have field test kits, or we would probably just take the drug into evidence and send it … for testing.”
Nick Marie, the owner of Buddy’s Lounge in Athens, said drug usage on college campuses, like Ohio University, is inevitable, but as the owner of a store that sells hemp products, he said he needs to make sure students are doing it safely.
“The way I see it is kids are going to do what kids are going to do. They're going to screw around, they're going to try new things, and if they're going to do it, they need to do it safely,” Marie said. “I think it's kind of up to us as business owners and just as a community to make sure that whether or not they're messing around, the people who are can do it safely.”
Jack Pepper, an administrator for the Athens City-County Health Department, or ACCHD, said fentanyl test strips are an inexpensive way to prevent overdoses.
“Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a low-cost method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm,” Pepper wrote in an email. “FTS provide people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce risk of overdose.”
In Ohio, some organizations will give out test strips for free to people who request them. For example, The SOAR Initiative has a service called “The Strip Club” that will anonymously send test strips and other materials for safe drug usage to one's door.
The SOAR Initiative has multiple locations throughout Ohio, including one in Athens that can be reached by phone at 740-872-7627.
When using marijuana, there are many ways to ensure the drug does not contain fentanyl without using test strips. For example, buying from companies like Buddy’s Lounge, which sells hemp products that can only contain 0.3% of Delta-9 THC. Additionally, Marie said Buddy’s Lounge tests its products before selling them.
“The products that we provide are going to be quality controlled, lab tested, and farm direct, where there's no middlemen involved where anything could potentially get added to the product,” Marie said. “We make sure here at Buddies, where we sell hemp-derived products, farm-direct, (It’s) a completely safer way to do (marijuana) than going off the street and getting it.”
Of Marie's three Buddy’s locations, only the West Virginia location provides free test strips to West Virginia University students. The Athens location and Marie’s Pennsylvania location do not currently provide them.
“I need to check the local laws on being able to give (test strips) away for free,” Marie said. “I know in Pennsylvania, they just repealed the ban on fentanyl test strips because they categorize it as paraphernalia, which, again, it's more so a harm reduction tool than actually assisting you in using the product in a physical form of ingestion.”
Pepper said fentanyl test strips are designed to help people consider the effects of drug usage and •can be beneficial for college campuses.
“FTS provide people who use drugs, including casual users, with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce risk of overdose,” Pepper said.