Fuquan Johnson, a comedian, and two other people died in Los Angeles on Saturday after reportedly overdosing on fentanyl-laced cocaine. Kate Quigley, another comedian, was hospitalized.
From Long Island, New York, to Lincoln, Nebraska, similar overdoses have been reported. In 2020, overdose deaths in the United States were at an all-time high due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is frequently combined with other narcotic drugs, such as heroin, to increase their potency.
However, officials are increasingly warning that fentanyl is being found in drugs such as cocaine, resulting in accidental overdoses of unaware individuals.
According to VICE, police in New York City estimate that 8%, or nearly one in every ten bags of cocaine sold on the street, contain fentanyl.
What you need to know about fentanyl and how to determine if your medications have been laced.
Fentanyl may be especially lethal for those who have never used an opioid.
Even a trace amount of fentanyl can be dangerous for someone who is “opioid-naive,” according to Gothamist.
According to the DEA, fentanyl is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The high potency increases the risk of overdose in people who do not use opioids on a regular basis and have not developed a tolerance.
Cocaine users may also be less prepared for an overdose than regular opioid users. At harm-reduction centers, individuals who use heroin may have access to naloxone, an overdose reversal medication.
However, someone who engages in recreational cocaine or other drug use is unlikely to come into contact with those resources.
Keep test strips and naloxone on hand if you use any hard drugs.
Fentanyl test strips can detect the presence of fentanyl in a substance in a matter of minutes and with a sensitivity of approximately 97 percent.
According to the Health Affairs journal blog, the over-the-counter strips are available at harm-reduction locations such as syringe exchanges, as well as online and in some corner stores.
The strips operate similarly to many other testing kits: dissolve the drug in a buffer solution or water and then immerse the paper strip in the solution. If the liquid tests positive for fentanyl, the strip will change color or display a line.
If you are a frequent user of any hard drug — not just heroin or opioids — it is prudent to keep naloxone on hand in the event of an emergency. Also known as Narcan, the anti-overdose medication is available without a prescription at the majority of major pharmacies in the United States, as well as online from Naloxone Exchange.
A negative test strip does not mean that all is well.
While testing for fentanyl can provide some reassurance, it does not ensure that the substance is free of all synthetic opioids.
There are numerous variants of fentanyl and other similarly dangerous substances, and test strips may only detect the most common ones, Carnegie Mellon University professor Jonathan Caulkins told VICE.
If only a small portion of the drugs is tested, fentanyl or another synthetic opioid may be concealed elsewhere in the bag. Because it is not always evenly distributed, your subsequent hit may be more potent even if the sample tested negative.