Infrequent detection of unintentional fentanyl use via urinalysis among people who regularly inject opioids in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Addiction, 2022
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BACKGROUND AND AIM: The current phase of the North American 'opioid crisis' is characterised by illicit fentanyl use; however, the presence of illicit fentanyl in Australia is unknown. This study aimed to monitor unintentional fentanyl consumption in Australia. DESIGN: Rapid Urine Drug Screens (UDS) paired with surveys conducted within Supervised Injecting Facilities (SIFs), and confirmatory laboratory testing. SETTING: Sydney and Melbourne, Australia PARTICIPANTS: Clients who used heroin within the past 2 days (n=911 tests, 2017-2021). Participants were demographically similar to the overall client base (median age 43, 72% male). MEASUREMENTS: UDS were conducted using BTNX Rapid Response™ fentanyl urine strip tests with cross-reactivity to numerous fentanyl analogues. Positive urine samples were analysed using liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry. Surveys covered past 3 day drug use and lifetime report of fentanyl in heroin. FINDINGS: Two percent of participants reported intentional use of fentanyl, mostly through fentanyl patches. Of the 911 rapid UDS conducted, 17 (1.9%) yielded positive results. Eight of these (all from Melbourne) were not explained by survey-reported fentanyl use in the past 3 days. Of these 8 unexplained positives, confirmatory laboratory analysis was conducted on 6, with 4 deemed to be false positives, and 2 confirmed for the presence of fentanyl. This represents the first confirmation of unintended use of fentanyl type substances in this population. CONCLUSION: There is limited evidence of unintentional fentanyl use among people in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia who regularly inject heroin, suggesting that, currently, there is very little illicit fentanyl in Australian drug markets accessed by Supervised Injecting Facilities attendees. This study demonstrates the feasibility of quick onsite testing to cost-effectively screen large samples for fentanyl; however, the high false positive rate emphasises the need for confirmation of positive tests through advanced analytical techniques.
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