CLEVELAND — The opioid epidemic ravaging communities nationwide includes both prescription drugs and illegal narcotics like heroin.
Complicating the deadly crisis is that street drugs are sometimes laced with fentanyl, leading to an increase in overdose deaths.
Now there’s a new tool that some say can help reduce the number of those overdoses.
Greg McNeil is hoping to shrink those numbers, by bringing the test strips to Northeast Ohio. He lost his son to a drug overdose in fall of 2015.
“Devastated when we got the news,” he said.
McNeil is the founder of Cover2 Resources. His family started a podcast to help other families dealing with drug users.
He said he heard about the strips being used in a pilot program in New York City, where fentanyl-laced drugs are also a big problem.
Cover2 is now working with Circle Health Services in Cleveland to buy test strips for drug users, along with the Cuyahoga County.
“Ask users if they’re interested in testing, before they use it,” said McNeil, “For those that say yes, what they do is they hand them the test strip.”
He said the test strips work similarly to a pregnancy test and takes just seconds. The pilot program in New York showed drug users were 10 times more likely to change their usage, after using these strips.
“That’s going to save lives right there,” said McNeil. “Ten times more likely to go a little slower, use a little bit less.”
News 5 asked him: Could these test strips just be an enabler?
He did not say yes or no.
“You can guilt them, plead with them, you can bribe them, and all of those things ultimately, in my experience, they don’t work,” he responded.
McNeil said the goal is not to force them to quit, but to save lives.
“I just think that all you can do is encourage them to get help,” he said, “but in the meantime, make sure that if they’re going to use, they do it safely as possible, and this is just another tool to do just that.”
According to McNeil, from his experience, the drug users have to find it within themselves to quit. Nobody can force them.
The test strips cost only about a dollar each. Cover2 has already handed out about 500 of them to Circle Health Services, which offers services to those without health insurance.
McNeil said he’s working to start a pilot program in Northeast Ohio and expand it, if the program turns out to be effective.