Overdose deaths have reached record levels over the last year, in part because fentanyl is showing up in more illegal drugs. Now, the federal government is taking action on multiple levels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently launched an overdose awareness campaign targeting adults ages 18 to 34. And the Office National Drug Control Policy is helping states write legislation to expand access to naloxone, which can stop an overdose.
Advocacy groups say they need more money and support.
“We've got programs on the ground that are like all ready and able to do this, but they don't have consistent access to funding to buy the resources to get the naloxone, to get the syringe sterile syringes that they might need as well, right,” said Emma Roberts with the National Harm Reduction Coalition.
The National Harm Reduction Coalition has been around since the 1990s, addressing drug use and HIV stigma. They also help people get access to clean needles to prevent disease spread.
They would like to see naloxone become similar to a first-aid item, but the price of the nasal spray keeps rising.
“Everybody in a community should have access to naloxone, right. In some communities, there's been this debate about, ‘It should just be the first responders, right.’ But who's first on the scene in an overdose? It's the friend of someone who's using, it's a family member, it's a community member,” said Roberts.
Fentanyl test strips can also help but are expensive.
In San Francisco, a pilot program found the strips helped create more effective discussions around fentanyl dangers. If a person detected fentanyl in drugs, they were more likely to share the information and use other harm reduction measures.
There are downsides, though. The strips are extremely sensitive, they don’t tell the percentage of fentanyl in drugs, and results can also be misread.
“From my experience of doing this for over 20 years, I think it's the stigma that keeps people disconnected from services from their community and families are told that they need to cut off their loved one and let them hit rock bottom. And we know that for many people, rock bottom is death,” said Roberts.