Fentanyl test strips now available at Madison Community Pharmacy

Public Health Madison and Dane County is partnering with Community Pharmacy to expand the reach of its free fentanyl test strips. The partnership aims to reduce drug overdoses in Dane County.

Since fentanyl test strips were decriminalized in March, public health has started offering them through its syringe service program at two locations on the south and east sides. Community Pharmacy, 130 S. Fair Oaks Ave., is the first “satellite site” the agency has partnered with.

“There is an exponential increase in overdose and supply-related deaths of fentanyl,” said Kathy Andrusz, of Public Heath’s Syringe Services Program. “Testing kits are essential for people who use drugs to help them with their overdose prevention toolbox.”

Liliana “Lily” Kolb died at the age of 20 from a fentanyl overdose on April 1, 2021, just before she began treatment. Her mother, Lorre Kolb, remembers her daughter’s struggles with addiction.

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which said 59% of opioid-related deaths in 2017 involved fentanyl. These numbers are only increasing.

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The drug is the source of many of these overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or cocaine, often without the knowledge of the user, resulting in overdose and death.

Opioid overdose deaths in Wisconsin and Dane County are rising steadily, in part due to fentanyl overdoses.

Public Health decided to partner with community pharmacy to ensure that fentanyl test strips and other harm reduction techniques could reach more people. The pharmacy is able to distribute the strips in the evening and on Saturdays when the service is closed, thus widening access to people likely to work during the day.

“Health equity is really at the center of what we do these days,” said PJ Chamberlain, pharmacy technician at Community Pharmacy. “Making sure people have equal access and equitable resources is something we are working on even with COVID testing. … Working should not deprive you of these resources.

The pharmacy’s syringe departments typically receive two to three visitors a day during the week and four to six visitors each Saturday, he added. The Community Pharmacy began offering the Public Health Needle Services program about nine months ago. He began distributing fentanyl strips on June 23.

East Community Pharmacy 072721 08-07272021161232

The community pharmacy, located at 130 Fair Oaks Ave., offers free fentanyl test strips.


The pharmacy is looking to extend its support to dependent people. Chamberlain is working to connect the pharmacy to a bereavement support group and create programming for International Overdose Awareness Day in late August.

“I have a friend who died two years ago of an overdose,” he said, “so I think awareness is really important. In small independent pharmacies, the focus is on the community we can do this work in. That’s what drove me to work here in the first place.

The community pharmacy offers fentanyl strips, as well as safer injection equipment, harm reduction information, sharps disposal boxes and free condoms. Public Health also provides these services at 2705 E. Washington Ave and 2300 S. Park St.

Community pharmacy and public health also offer Narcan to minimize opioid overdoses. The drug can reverse drug overdoses.

In June, Public Health’s Syringe Services program distributed 571 fentanyl kits, or about 30% of patient visits, Andrusz said.

Opioid Outbreak Test Strips

Test strips let users know quickly if drugs contain fentanyl, the leading factor in overdose deaths.


Public Health is also working with social service agencies and the state’s probation and parole division to distribute fentanyl test strips directly to clients. Other organizations in the county, including Never Use Alone and Vivent Health, also offer harm reduction tools such as Narcan and fentanyl test strips.

Andrusz said the department is working to make the tapes even more accessible to the general public.

“We are looking to increase the staff and the availability of time to do outreach to get more community partners,” she said. “The more people we reach, the more people we can save.”

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