Drug Testing at Festivals Stokes Controversy in Tennessee’s Addiction Epidemic

Drug Testing at festivals stoke concerns in Tennessee

Fentanyl is worsening Tennessee’s already severe drug addiction and overdose epidemic. In fact, 2018 proved to be Tennessee’s deadliest year for drug overdose deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports nearly 1840 people died from overdosing on opioids in 2018. That represents an increase of at least three percent from the number of drug overdose deaths in the state in 2017.

State addiction specialists speculate that this increase may be caused by addicts injecting heroin or cocaine cut with fentanyl, a pain reliever 50 times more powerfully addictive and sedative than morphine. Prescribed by doctors for patients suffering chronic, severe pain, fentanyl lozenges or skin patches are frequently abused and sold on the streets. (Currently, China is the #1 supplier of illegal fentanyl (in powder or liquid form) found in the U.S.)

Because of the influx of heroin laced with fentanyl in Tennessee—(and, in turn, the rising opioid-related fatalities)—one company called Bunk Police wants to make drug-testing kits available at summer music concerts and festivals. A particularly notable festival the company plans to target: the 18th annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.

Founder and CEO of Bunk Police Adam Auctor wants to prevent people from overdosing on drugs, by providing them with testing strips to determine if they are using heroin or cocaine that has been adulterated with fentanyl. Although heroin and cocaine are deadly enough by themselves, the risk of overdosing increases significantly if these drugs are contaminated with fentanyl.

Why Is Tennessee One of the Worst States for Drug Addiction and Overdose?

In the 1990s, doctors started over-prescribing pain pills like Oxytocin and hydrocodone when pharmaceutical companies making these pills said they had conducted tests and found they were not addictive. As a consequence of lax prescription regulations, “pill mills” began popping up all over the state in the 2000s. Led by unscrupulous physicians who wrote prescriptions for opioid pain medications to anyone who wanted them, pill mills contributed significantly to the drug addiction epidemic we see today in Tennessee and other parts of the U.S.

Now the state’s attorney general, Herbert Slatery, is suing Endo Pharmaceuticals and the sales representatives who marketed opioid pain pills for failing to stop the number of prescriptions being written and filled for their drugs. Slatery is arguing that Endo Pharmaceuticals knowingly pushed highly addictive and dangerous pain medications for profit.

Why are Drug Testing Kits Provided at Music Festivals Controversial?

Similar to the way providing drug addicts with new needles is controversial—(proponents say it reduces the risk of spreading HIV, hepatitis and other life-threatening bacterial infections)—handing out drug-testing kits at Tennessee music festivals is also seen as controversial. Opponents say the measure only promotes addictive behaviors, and could even start non-addicted people on the path towards full-blown addiction.

Proponents of drug-testing kits refute this claim. They point to several advantages of drug-testing kits meant to detect fentanyl in heroin or cocaine, including:

  • A lower risk of overdose
  • A reduction in the number of overdose patients in emergency rooms at any given time (most ERs are already strained by people suffering injuries from traffic accidents and medical emergencies)
  • A reduction in the negative consequences of drug use

How Do Fentanyl Test Strips Work?

The drug-testing strips that would be handed out at some Tennessee music festivals require people who use them to mix the drug(s) they’re using with a special fluid, and then dip a strip into sterile water. Based on the results of their strip tests, drug users have the choice of reducing the amount of the drug they inject, not using the drug, or having quick access to Naloxone (if they show signs of overdosing after injecting the drug).

Ketamine, MDMA, cocaine and other drugs that are not typically injected may be tested with fentanyl strips as long as water is mixed with these drugs before conducting the test. Pills should be crushed before testing to ensure all parts of the pill are completely tested.

People using fentanyl drug-testing strips should be aware that strips may not always provide an accurate response. Heroin and cocaine may contain other “filler” substances that are not detected by strips. A “false positive” for fentanyl can occur if the drug is heavily contaminated as well.

FHE Offers Treatment for Opioid Addictions

If you or someone you love is addicted to opioids like heroin and fentanyl, you know how difficult it is to stop using. FHE Health is here for you. We are a nationally recognized behavioral treatment center providing comprehensive outpatient and inpatient treatment programs to address the unique needs of anyone with an addiction or mental health problem. Call us today at (844) 299-0618 to find out how we can put you or your loved one on the road to a successful recovery.

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