Advocates to distribute street drug tests for fentanyl throughout R.I. Friday

A LAB TECHNICIAN demonstrates the use of fentanyl testing strips at the Rhode Island Department of Health Laboratory in Providence, Rhode Island, Jan. 10, 2018. / COURTESY BLOOMBERG HEALTH INITIATIVE/ALLISON SHELLEY
A LAB TECHNICIAN demonstrates the use of fentanyl testing strips at the Rhode Island Department of Health Laboratory in Providence, Rhode Island, Jan. 10, 2018. / COURTESY BLOOMBERG HEALTH INITIATIVE/ALLISON SHELLEY

PROVIDENCE — Public health advocates, including representatives of Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention at The Miriam Hospital, will distribute street drug test strips for fentanyl and doses of naloxone in the city and around Rhode Island Friday.

The event coincides with the fourth annual International Overdose Awareness Day.

Volunteers from the organization and several others will hand out the strips and naloxone in Burnside Park in Providence from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Eisenhower Park in Washington Square, Newport from 12 to 4 p.m.; and two locations in Woonsocket, 55 Cummings Way and 800 Clinton St. from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The organization will also perform outreach and distribution in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls throughout the day and early evening.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Rhode Island with the ninth-highest rate of deaths from opioid overdose in the country, an ignominious piece of data in the story of the nation’s opioid epidemic. The R.I. Department of Health warns that if someone is using heroin or other opioids, they should assume they are also using the extremely lethal drug fentanyl, a highly potent and deadly synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is commonly found in the local drug supply, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine and is a major driver of overdose deaths in Rhode Island.

“The opioid epidemic continues to transform, challenging us to employ creative and dynamic solutions to combat this crisis. Helping Rhode Islanders detect fentanyl in the drug supply, prior to use, will save lives,” said Dr. Josiah Rich, co-founder of PONI, an overdose prevention and intervention training program at The Miriam Hospital.

PONI’s campaign makes Rhode Island among the first in the nation to distribute the $1 fentanyl test strips, which indicate the presence of fentanyl. The strips are used to test a small amount of a user’s street drug before they inject the substance. Several drops of a drug are left in a container, then mixed with sterile water before dipping the test strips into it for 15 seconds. One red line is positive for fentanyl. Two red lines is a negative result for the potent opiate.

Dr. Rich, an infectious disease physician at The Miriam, is a national expert on the opioid epidemic and an adviser to the Governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. He is also the director of The Miriam’s Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. He co-founded PONI with Michelle McKenzie, who, as the director of the program, collaborated with 40 community organizations to distribute more than 5,000 naloxone kits in 2017.

Organizations participating in the event include Anchor Recovery Centers and Mobile Outreach, R.I. Department of Behavioral Health Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, CODAC Behavioral Health, Community Care Alliance, ENCORE/AIDS Care Ocean State, Hope Recovery Center of Newport, House of Hope, Parent Support Network, Protect Families First, Providence Healthy Communities Office, Resources-Education-Support-Together, RI Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts, R.I. Department of Health, Rhode Island Users Union, Weber/Renew, and the Woonsocket Prevention Council.

“We’re hitting the streets in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day to raise awareness about innovative technology – fentanyl test strips – that allows people to know whether their drugs contain fentanyl,” said McKenzie, a senior project director at The Miriam and research associate at the Warren Alpert Medical School. “It is an honor to partner with so many organizations from around the state to provide the test strips, naloxone, and harm reduction tools.”

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.