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Are drug-checking services useful to people who use drugs?

James Swartz study

Among the many dangers of opioid use is that street drugs purporting to be one drug often contain other drugs, such as fentanyl, or cutting agents. Drug-checking services — various types of tests that can determine what, truly, is in a drug — can help users understand what they are about to put in their bodies.

A team of UIC researchers from the Jane Addams College of Social Work and the School of Public Health and colleagues wondered what attitudes people who use drugs have toward these services. They were particularly interested in attitudes toward testing for fentanyl, which has become more common in street drugs, both as a hidden ingredient and an intentionally sought-out drug. If most opioid users expect their heroin to contain fentanyl, is it worth it to test the drugs to know for sure?

To find out, the researchers conducted a study with 118 people who participated in two needle exchange programs in Chicago. Each participant gave the researchers a sample of their recently purchased drugs and answered survey questions about their drug use and overdose histories, their attitudes toward drug-checking services and what they believed was actually in the samples they provided to the researchers. The study is published in Harm Reduction Journal.

The researchers found that more than 90% of participants believed they had recently used fentanyl either deliberately or because it was mixed in with something else, yet only 38% of participants said they prefer fentanyl or drug mixtures containing it. Read more from UIC Today.