BACKGROUND: Deaths from fentanyl exposure continue to increase in the US. Fentanyl test strips are now available to test urine for presence of fentanyl, but additional testing methods are needed to determine past exposure and to determine exposure to specific analogs.
OBJECTIVES: To investigate exposure to such analogs through hair testing.
METHODS: Forty individuals in inpatient detoxification (7.5% female) reporting past-month heroin use were surveyed and provided a hair sample to be tested at a later date. While results could not be provided to patients, they were asked how they would respond if informed that their hair tested positive for fentanyl. UHPLC-MS/MS was used to test for past exposure to fentanyl, six other novel synthetic opioids, and fentanyl biomarkers/metabolites.
RESULTS: 27.5% reported known fentanyl use in the past year and 67.5% reported suspected exposure. 97.5% (39 of 40) tested positive for fentanyl, 90.0% tested positive for 4-ANPP (a biomarker) and norfentanyl (a metabolite); 82.5% tested positive for acetyl-fentanyl, 47.5% tested positive for furanyl-fentanyl, and 7.5% tested positive for U-47700. Most participants (82.5%) reported they would warn others about fentanyl if they learned their hair tested positive; 75.0% reported they would try to stop using heroin, and 65.0% reported they would ensure that someone nearby has naloxone to reverse a potential overdose.
CONCLUSIONS: Hair testing is useful in detecting past exposure to fentanyl, its analogs, and other novel synthetic opioids. Further research is needed to determine whether individuals who use heroin learning about exposure affects drug-taking and treatment-seeking behavior.
Testing hair for fentanyl exposure: A method to inform harm reduction behavior among individuals who use heroin
American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 45 (1), 90-96. doi: 10.1080/00952990.2018.1550652. PMCID: PMC6380913.