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Fentanyl testing strips now available at Madison's Community Pharmacy

Wisconsin State Journal - 7/24/2022

Jul. 23—Public Health Madison and Dane County is partnering with Community Pharmacy to expand the reach of its free fentanyl testing strips. The partnership aims to decrease drug overdoses in Dane County.

Since fentanyl testing strips were de-criminalized in March, Public Health has begun offering them through its syringe services program at two locations on the South and East sides. Community Pharmacy is the first "satellite site" the agency has partnered with.

"There's an exponential rise in deaths due to overdose and tied to the fentanyl supply," said Kathy Andrusz, with the department's syringe services program. "Test kits are essential for people who use drugs to help in their overdose prevention toolkit."

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 59% of opioids-related deaths in 2017 involved fentanyl, NIDA said. Those numbers are only rising.

The drug is to blame for many of these overdoses, according to the CDC. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or cocaine, often without a user's knowledge, leading to overdose and death.

Public Health decided to partner with Community Pharmacy to ensure fentanyl testing strips and other harm reduction techniques could reach more people. The pharmacy is able to distribute the strips in the evenings and on Saturdays when the department is closed, expanding access to people who might work during the day.

"Health equity is really at the center of what we are doing these days," PJ Chamberlain, a pharmacy technician at Community Pharmacy. "Making sure that people have equal access and equitable resources is something we're even working on with COVID testing. ... Working should not preclude you from these resources."

The pharmacy's syringe services typically sees two to three visitors each day during the week and four to six visitors each Saturday, he added. Community Pharmacy began offering Public Health's syringe services program about nine months ago. It began distributing fentanyl strips on June 23.

The pharmacy is looking to further expand support for people with addiction. Chamberlain is working on connecting the pharmacy with a grief support group and creating programming for International Overdose Awareness Day in late August.

"I have a friend who passed away two years ago from an overdose," he said, "so I think raising awareness is really important. At smaller independent pharmacies there is a focus on community where we can do this work. That's what drew me to working here in the first place."

Community Pharmacy offers fentanyl strips, along with safer injection equipment, risk reduction information, sharps disposal boxes and free condoms. Public Health also provides those services at 2705 E. Washington Ave and 2300 S. Park St.

Community Pharmacy and Public Health also offer Narcan to minimize opioid overdoses, as well. The drug can reverse drug overdoses.

In June, Public Health's syringe services program distributed 571 fentanyl kits, or in about 30% of patient visits, Andrusz said.

Public Health is also working with human service agencies and the state Probation and Parole Division to distribute fentanyl testing strips directly to clients. Other organizations in the county, including Never Use Alone and Vivent Health, also offer harm reduction tools like Narcan and fentanyl testing strips.

Andrusz said the department is working on making the strips even more accessible to the general public.

"We're looking to increase staff and availability of time to do outreach to get more community partners," she said. "The more people we reach, the more people we can save."


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