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The United States of Addiction: Searching for new ways to avoid overdoses - CNN

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(CNN)When US drug overdose deaths hit a shocking 100,000 over a 12-month period, we focused the newsletter on stories from around the country of overdose deaths related to fentanyl.

The issue needs much more attention.

CNN reporters offered up three television reports this week on the US drug crisis, looking at opioids, heroin, meth and fentanyl in an attempt to show how they enter communities, the toll they take and efforts to cut down on them.

Each dose is a gamble now. Wednesday's installment of CNN's "United States of Addiction" series focused on emerging ways to deal with the problem that enables safer drug use rather than rely on law enforcement.

The idea is "harm reduction" -- giving users safe spaces to shoot drugs or the power to see if what they're taking contains fentanyl.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, talked to a woman who has been using heroin for 20 years and now fears every shot could be cut with deadly fentanyl.

Identifying drugs with fentanyl. One possible solution is making it easier to avoid the deadliest drugs.

Gupta looked into fentanyl testing strips, which can identify the presence of fentanyl in drugs before a user ingests them. There are pilot programs, like one in Arlington, Virginia, to get these strips in the hands of users.

He also talked to researchers using tools commonly found in forensic science to find more precise ways to identify the components in drugs.

"The question that will always come up is, 'Does this actually save lives? Does this prevent deaths?' Do we know that?" Gupta asked Jon Zibbell, who works for the nonprofit research group RTI International.

"What we are seeing is that people are using more safely -- they're more aware of what's going on," Zibbell said.

Providing safe spaces. There are treatments for heroin and opioid overdose. Gupta played video of an overdose "rescue" using the drug naloxone. There's an effort to get more naloxone in the hands of first responders and others who might encounter overdoses.

There are also efforts underway to get users closer to these lifesaving remedies when they shoot up.

New York City this week opened two overdose prevention centers, also known as supervised consumption sites or safe injection sites, where users can receive medical care after injecting themselves with drugs.

1 in 100,000: The story of a fentanyl victim. Earlier this week, CNN's Miguel Marquez and Rachel Clarke reported on a single death in Kentucky.

Matthew Davidson's story is unique. He suffered from hemophilia, a disorder in which blood doesn't clot normally, and his mother, Karen Butcher, talked about how his struggles with pain from that disease led to an opioid addiction. His comfort with needles may have eased his path toward heroin, she said.

Davidson's story also sounds like that of so many others. He struggled with addiction, was in and out of rehab, and may not have known the drugs that caused the fatal overdose were tainted by a small amount of fentanyl.

Butcher opened a chapter of Parents of Addicted Loved Ones in Kentucky.

In Fresno's meth hell, there's no antidote. Clarke worked with CNN's Kyung Lah and Anna-Maja Rappard to look at the meth problem in California's Central Valley, which is very different than the report about heroin in Kentucky. Fentanyl can be used to adulterate meth sold on the street. But most deaths there are due to meth alone, for which naloxone is no help.

The CNN reporters went out on patrol with a sheriff's deputy who said the meth epidemic helps fuel other crimes, like domestic disturbance and theft. It's also contributing to a homelessness crisis.

They talked to a man who started using the drug at 13 and can't get off, as well as a man who did kick his habit and says the meth today, manufactured in large labs in Mexico, is more potent and dangerous.

These are just three CNN reports. Accounts of drugs in America are everywhere.

A truck driver was arrested at the California-Mexico border recently with 17,500 pounds of meth and 389 pounds of fentanyl.

In Seattle, a man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for a backyard fentanyl production operation with supplies that were ordered from China.

Also on Tuesday: In Tennessee, a vape pen laced with fentanyl and brought by a student to a high school exposed three employees to the drug. The school was temporarily closed.