New Guidance Aims to Reduce Drug Overdose Deaths
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced today that federal funding may now be used to purchase rapid fentanyl test strips (FTS) in an effort to help curb the dramatic spike in drug overdose deaths largely driven by the use of strong synthetic opioids, including illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
FTS can be used to determine if drugs have been mixed or cut with fentanyl, providing people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce their risk of overdose.
“This is a major step forward in the ongoing and critical work to prevent overdose and connect people who have substance use disorders to evidence-based treatment options,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Tom Coderre, the interim leader at SAMHSA. “This will save lives by providing tools to identify the growing presence of fentanyl in the nation’s illicit drug supply and – partnered with referrals to treatment – complement SAMHSA’s daily work to direct help to more Americans.”
Approximately 88,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in August 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to provisional data from CDC, and overdose deaths have continued to accelerate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must do all we can to save lives from drug overdoses,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH. “The increase in drug overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids such as illicitly made fentanyl is a public health crisis that requires immediate action and novel strategies. State and local programs now have another tool to add to their on-the-ground efforts toward reducing and preventing overdoses, in particular fentanyl-related overdose deaths.”
This change applies to all federal grant programs as long as the purchase of FTS is consistent with the purpose of the program. Following are two examples of overdose response programs that can now use program funds to purchase FTS.
CDC’s multiyear Overdose Data to Action cooperative agreement began in September 2019 and funds health departments in 47 states; Washington, D.C.; two territories; and 16 cities and counties for drug overdose surveillance and prevention efforts. Funds awarded as part of this agreement support health departments in obtaining high quality, more comprehensive, and timelier data on overdose morbidity and mortality and using those data to implement prevention and response efforts.
SAMHSA’s State Opioid Response (SOR) grant aims to address the opioid crisis by increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, reducing unmet treatment need and reducing opioid overdose-related deaths through supporting prevention, treatment, and recovery activities for opioid use disorder. SOR supplements current state and territory opioid-related activities and supports a comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used for treating severe pain and is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose and death in the United States are linked to illicitly made fentanyl. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine to increase its euphoric effects. The risk of overdose exists when any fentanyl is present given its potency and lethality, but risk is especially high among persons who are not tolerant to it and may not be aware of the presence of fentanyl in what they are using.
Learn more about what CDC is doing to prevent opioid-related deaths on CDC's Efforts to Prevent Opioid Overdoses and Other Opioid-Related Harms webpage.
People who have substance use disorder can find evidence-based treatment and service options near them by visiting https://findtreatment.gov or by calling the 24/7, national Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).