Mark Jenkins of the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition passes out fentanyl test strips as part of his mobile needle exchange. He has set up on a Sunday in the parking lot of 1200 Park, a shopping plaza/strip mall across from Pope Park where users often congregate.
Once the users see him out there, word spreads, people come from under the highway overpass, cars pull up and users step out. It is a Sunday and the local needle exchange van only operates Monday through Friday. Many have already run out of their supply of fresh needles, so this is a welcome event. The users hand over their old needles counting them out as they drop them in the sharps box and Mark hands them new syringes ten to a package.
One of the advantages of needle exchange is users pick up used needles, knowing they can exchange them for new ones. They use some of the needles for themselves and sell others a dollar a needle to other users. Mark also provides them with clean tourniquets, small cookers which look like quart bottle caps, a saline bullet, an alcohol wipe and little bits of cotton. They pour their heroin in the cooker, squirt in the saline water, stir it up, and then they draw the mixture up through the cotton ball which serves as a filter to help keep out impurities.
Mark has another product for them today. Fentanyl test strips. “Stick the strip in your cooker,” Mark says. “If one line turns red, there is Fentanyl present, two lines, it’s negative. You can choose not to use or if you do just do a test shot. Do two bags instead of five. Have someone with you.”
In the summer of 2017 Mark collected heroin bags across the city, and tested them for fentanyl. Nearly ninety percent of the city’s bags tested positive.
“It’s about informed choices,” Mark says. “They can choose to avoid the fentanyl or much more likely, if they use it, they at least know it’s there and they can take steps to stay safe, having someone there with them, having naloxone available, using less than