Advocates say fentanyl test strips could help save lives after overdose outbreak in St. Louis

Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 11:11 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - From high-rise apartments to suburban neighborhoods, fentanyl is everywhere and it’s attributed to more than half of all overdose deaths in the country.

Investigators believe it played a role in the overdose outbreak this past weekend in the Central West End that left seven people dead.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better because our drug supply is poisoned,” explained Dr. Rachel Winograd, an associate professor of psychology and part of the Addiction Science Team at UMSL.

Winograd said the deaths this past weekend are a tragedy but they could lead to increase awareness and resources.

“We need everything from harm reduction interventions, naloxone to stop overdoses and fentanyl test strips so people know what they’re putting in their body,” she explained.

A bill introduced by West County state representative Trish Gunby (D- Ballwin) would establish a fentanyl testing strip pilot program. The strips are one-time use tools to test a drug for the presence of the deadly drug fentanyl. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says fentanyl is showing up in all kinds of drugs, often times when users are not expecting it.

Winograd says those strips are already in use throughout the community and have been proven effective.

“We have absolutely heard that people are using them and are getting more knowledge about the drugs being put into their bodies,” she explained.

But some say these tools enable drug users. Winograd disagrees.

“Right now, we’re dealing with a poisoned drug supply, so we can either help save people’s lives and reduce their risk of death, or we can say or you’re on your own,” said Winograd.

It was a similar reaction to Naloxone or Narcan, which is now used daily by first responders and others to save lives.

According to the latest data from the St. Louis Fire Department, they administered 2,395 doses of Narcan in 2021. That’s almost seven times a day. But it’s not just an urban issue. The St. Charles County Ambulance district responds to an overdose call every single day.

But there is one part of our community being hit hardest.

“St. Louis City has one of the highest, if not the highest, overdose rate of Black men in the entire country,” explained Winograd. Which is why she says more outreach must be done to reach that part of the community.

Six of the seven people killed this past weekend were Black men. The identities of the victims have not been released.