In the day room at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, which runs a needle exchange program in the Bronx, a group of guys are playing dominoes and listening to salsa music while they wait for lunch. And Van Asher, one of the staffers in charge of “transactions” — that means he gives out needles — is talking up his latest idea for how to keep the users here safe.
He wants to tell them what’s really in their stash.
“If you’re doing dope,” he says to one client, “we’ll give you a test strip so you can test and see if there’s fentanyl.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is “similar to morphine but can be 50 to 100 times more potent,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Increasingly, drug dealers have been using fentanyl to cut their heroin supply — which can be lethal for users. By using the same simple test a doctor would use to check for fentanyl in a patient’s urine, Asher is now giving drug users in the Bronx a way to quickly find out what’s in their syringe before they inject.