A fentanyl test strip intervention to reduce overdose risk among female sex workers who use drugs in Baltimore: Results from a pilot study

Ju Nyeong Park, Catherine Tomko, Bradley E. Silberzahn, Katherine Haney, Brandon D.L. Marshall, Susan G. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In 2018, there were over 67,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, with almost half involving illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. While overall age-adjusted drug overdose deaths decreased by 4.6% from 2017 to 2018, synthetic opioid deaths increased 10.0%. This pilot study evaluates the impact of a brief fentanyl test strip (FTS) intervention to increase fentanyl awareness and reduce overdose risk. Methods: Female sex workers (FSW) reporting past month illicit opioid use were recruited between April 2018 through February 2019 in Baltimore City, Maryland. At baseline, they completed a baseline survey, and received tailored harm reduction messaging, 5 FTS and training, and a naloxone kit, then completed a survey after one month. McNemar's test was used to compare repeated measures. Results: Among N = 103, 54% were <40 years, 59% were white, and 24% had overdosed in the past year. Among 68 who completed follow-up, most (84%) used ≥1 FTS to test their drugs, 86% had ≥1 fentanyl-positive result, 57% were surprised by the result, and 69% engaged in harm reduction behaviors following the result (e.g., asked someone to check on them, did a tester shot, used a smaller amount). Significant pretest–posttest reductions in daily illicit opioid use (77% to 56%; p = 0.003), injection frequency (40% to 25%; p = 0.004), benzodiazepine use (22% to 7%; p = 0.008), and solitary drug use (96% vs. 68%; p < 0.001) were observed. No change in preferring drugs containing fentanyl was found. Some (18%) gave their FTS to others. All but three (96%) reported being likely to use FTS in the future. Conclusions: We found high FTS acceptability and reductions in drug use frequency and solitary drug use following FTS use among FSW who use drugs in Baltimore. These findings demonstrate that FTS-based interventions hold potential in reducing overdose risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106529
JournalAddictive Behaviors
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Fentanyl
  • Opioid overdose
  • Substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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