New Opioid and Fentanyl Strips Have Advocates and Critics

Fentanyl

Dsuvia

There’s a new opioid in town called Dsuvia. It’s been all over the news lately, and it’s controversial.  An NBC News headline proclaimed “FDA approves powerful new opioid in ‘terrible’ decision.” The FDA was also accused of bypassing its own advisory process to approve the drug.

This drug, which is 1,000 time stronger than morphine, is usually given in IV form. This new formulation is a tablet taken sublingually and is to be used only in health care settings such as hospitals. According to the NBC article, it’s commonly used on the battlefield and similar emergencies “to treat intense, acute pain.”. It was actually the military that requested the pill formulation.

In the middle of the opioid crisis, the obvious question experts are asking is do we really need another opioid? Two criticisms are that there may be more deaths from overdosing with this drug, and health workers in confined health settings may find it easy to steal it. The FDA, however, says it has learned from the opioid crisis and has tightly restricted Dsuvia. It will not be available at pharmacies or for home use, the package is for single-use only, and it should only be used for 72 hours tops.

Side effects, not surprisingly can be horrendous: fatigue, possible breathing problems, and even coma and death. The cost will be $50 to $60 per pill.

Fentanyl

Test strips for Fentanyl

At the same time as a new opioid has been approved, there’s a new “tool” in the fight against opioid overdoses, according to several media outlets — a strip of paper that can test for fentanyl in batches of heroin. In October, The Atlantic reported a recent study found that drug users who employ them as a precaution before ingesting opioids or cocaine can possibly avoid overdosing.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and has been found in at least half of overdoses now. (As indicated, cocaine is often laced with fentanyl as well.) Researchers posit that if more people with substance use disorder had access to the strips, “they’d use less, or possibly not use … at all.” A YouTube video made by the Associated Press shows that when the strip is dipped into a drug, the appearance of two red stripes signifies fentanyl is present, and one stripe means it is not.

As we know, some states, and even cities, are more progressive than others. “… Baltimore; Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio; and Burlington, Vermont—have started providing the test strips alongside clean needles. The California public-health department pays for the distribution of strips through needle exchanges.” Leave it to California to lead the way. 

However, some health agencies have questioned  the accuracy of the strips and whether or not a person would actually not take drugs they have right in front of them. Also, some experts want to see more research done.

There’s an obstacle as well: Some areas have “paraphernalia laws” that prohibit the use of devices to aid in doing drugs, except clean syringes, so these laws need to be amended to exempt test strips as well. 

The cost may also deter some users. Each strip costs $1.00, and users take drugs on average four times a day, so it’s not a cheap aid for people who don’t have money.