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More fentanyl strips being used as overdoses increase, Arlington Co. officials say

Arlington County increased the number of fentanyl strips after running out during the first week of its pilot program.

ARLINGTON, Va. — In an already deadly year for overdoses, Arlington County recorded at least two more opioid-related fatalities since the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Out of the 149 overdoses in the county (as of Nov. 26), 26 of them were deadly, according to the Arlington County opioid incident data. The 2021 numbers have surpassed the total for 2020. 

Overdose deaths reached a grim milestone in the U.S. with more than 100,000 killed in 2021, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In most cases, the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl was the driving force. Health experts continue to see a trend of deadly overdoses involving multiple substances in a drug user's system. 

There are many tools used across the country to help curb the growing problem, including the use of fentanyl strips. 

By placing a small sample of the drug in question in a small cup or cap filled with water, the strip can determine if it contains fentanyl. If the soaked strip reveals two lines, fentanyl is positive. One line indicates a negative result. 

Arlington County is the second jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to implement a program funded through state opioid response grants. In its first week distributing fentanyl strips in August as part of a pilot program, the county ran out of the 100 strips made available.

While there is no system to record how many of the tests come back positive or negative, county leaders say the program is working anecdotally. 

"We have given out 545 test strips since the middle of August, so we know that individuals are asking and coming back for more," Arlington County Department of Human Services Opioids Program Manager Emily Siqveland said. 

One of the clients who seeks treatment through the Arlington County Department of Human Services said the strips recently saved her life. She chose not to reveal her identity to WUSA9. 

"When I used it on Halloween, six of the bags I had, two of them were fentanyl and I threw them away," the client said. "If I had not had those strips, I probably would have gone through the last two bags and I probably wouldn't be here right now."

There are critics who question if programs like fentanyl strips would only perpetuate drug use instead of battling addiction. Both people in treatment and community advocates stress the goal is to provide hope for people dealing with a disease.

"If we're not providing ways to keep those people in our community who are suffering from this disease alive, then we can't help them," Siqveland said.

"Addiction is a brain disease," the woman in recovery said. "The strips are not coming to us for us to get high, it's letting us know they have our back."

Users in Arlington County can obtain fentanyl strips through case managers with the county's treatment services or by emailing the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative (AARI)

RELATED: Nationwide spike in overdoses concerning officials ahead of holidays

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