Fentanyl Test Strips Highlight Rift in Nation’s Struggle to Combat Drug Deaths

Fentanyl Test Strips Highlight Rift in Nation’s Struggle to Combat Drug Deaths

So she looks for people who can be at least persuaded to carry strips for the sake of saving others. Sussing out who might be receptive is a subtle skill, a blend of observation, intuition and street-wise experience.

Ms. Lopez and her co-worker Stephanie Llivichuzhca walked along 149th Street toward the Hub, a Bronx commercial center dense with drug traffic. Clusters of men leaned against storefronts, casually thumbing wads of cash.

As Ms. Lopez approached, she offered icebreaker inducements. To men chatting outside a barbershop: “Papi! How y’all doing? Need some condoms?” (Throughout the day, every man, young or old, responded: “You got Magnums?”) Then she would pivot to her test-strip pitch.

A thin, worn-looking woman sat alone at a cafe table, staring vacantly. “How you doing, Mama?” Ms. Lopez called, pulling out a hygiene kit from her bag.

As she headed toward the bustling spoke of the Hub, a man plunged a needle in his arm. She swerved away. “This is crazy to me!” she sputtered angrily. “Before Covid I don’t remember people feeling comfortable enough to shoot up in front of everybody. The world has definitely changed for poor people. They were borderline desperate before, but now they’re full-on desperate. ”

By the end of the shift, the women had distributed about 20 fentanyl test kits in addition to hygiene kits, condoms and Narcan, which reverses overdoses. Their program, New York City Communities for Health, run by the Silver School of Social Work at N.Y.U., also distributes kits in other neighborhoods in the Bronx and Manhattan.

The late-afternoon sun ducked behind clouds, and a chill breeze kicked up. How would Ms. Lopez find recipients when the weather turned wintry?

She was not daunted. “We should try to get people while they’re waiting for the subway,” she said to Ms. Llivichuzhca. “We would totally rock it!”

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