“75 percent of those were thought to be related to fentanyl,” said Dr. Jake Deutsch, an Emergency Medicine Physician with Mt. Sinai Hospital System in New York City.
Dr. Deutsch has practiced emergency medicine for over 25 years and works closely with opioid overdoses and the devastating impact of fentanyl, especially on young adults.
“This is a significant problem. I mean, those numbers are the highest in recorded history,” said Deutsch. “Unfortunately, drug use and experimentation is commonplace among our adolescents and we know now that adolescents between 18 and 25, the primary cause of death in the United States is from fentanyl overdoses,” he added.
Fentanyl was once manufactured by pharmaceutical companies and prescribed to help cancer patients manage pain. Now, it’s being illicitly-produced and laced with more substances, often unbeknown to the user. Experts suggest the rise in overdose deaths is linked to the combination of fentanyl with recreational and illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. It can take as little as two milligrams to kill an unsuspecting user with no tolerance.
“The assumption that I know that this is safe, or I live in an area where this has not happened, or I’m just trying something for the first time… it’s like Russian roulette,” said Deutsch.
Deutsch says anybody can be at risk and emphasizes how critical it is to prevent fentanyl ingestion in the first place.
“It’s in pills, powders, of course. There’re many times that people have overdosed and not thought that they were at risk,” said Deutsch. “Really, we’re kind of chasing the problem instead of working on real prevention,” he added.
Now, Dr. Deutsch is advocating for a prevention tool he believes can save the lives of recreational users and individuals struggling with a substance use disorder: rapid at-home fentanyl test strips.
“These are very, very practical for some of the most critical groups. The idea is, if this can be perceived before it gets into somebody’s system, we can reduce harm,” said Deutsch.
Signify Analytics’ Fentanyl Test Kit can detect the presence of fentanyl in liquid and powder substances within five minutes and with over 98 percent accuracy. Deutsch says the rapid test strips can save a life in six easy steps, and that even one overdose prevented is a success.
“One or two lives that are saved is enough information for me to prove that this is incredibly important,” said Deutsch. “Hopefully, there’ll be a moment where somebody says, ‘wait a second, this should be tested right now.’ Everybody needs to be part of this conversation and we need to reduce the stigma associated with this,” Deutsch added.
Signify Analytics hopes to eventually be able to use data from positive tests to track potential harm, and share that information with professionals and members of the community.