Evaluating Technologies to Identify Fentanyl and Adulterants in Street Drug Paraphernalia: Qualitative Perspectives of Service Providers and Their Clientele

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Substance use & misuse


Opioid overdose deaths continue to present major public health challenges in the U.S. Harm reduction agencies have begun using drug checking technologies to identify adulterants in the local drug supply and reduce overdose risk among people who use drugs (PWUD). Through qualitative and ethnographic methods, we assess the use of portable mass spectrometers at a harm reduction agency in a Northeastern U.S. city. We conducted participant observation, and on-the-spot qualitative interviews with harm-reduction staff members ( = 10) and their clientele ( = 17) between May 2019 and December 2020. Interviews explored emic views on drug checking (process, logistics, technology), and perceived benefits and challenges. We used thematic content analysis techniques to code and analyze interview transcriptions. Implementation and use of drug checking devices were not free of challenges and malfunctions, often delaying drug checking opportunities and increasing suspicions and distrust among clients. Yet, staff members perceived that when working properly, or in conjunction with an additional device, they offered information about purchased drugs that could empower clients and potentially lead to positive behavior change. Use of these devices also enhanced engagement between harm reduction staff and PWUD, facilitating meaningful conversations around self-advocacy and harm reduction engagement. We report qualitative findings on the experiences and perceptions of drug checking devices among harm reduction staff and PWUD. Our findings indicate that use of this technology has the potential to decrease risk behaviors, expand health promotion services, and help reduce high rates of fentanyl-related overdose.


Mathieu Boulad- Resident

First Page


Last Page