Bars are helping prevent drug overdoses with free fentanyl test strips

All hail our drunken harm reduction heroes.

crowded bar full of ethnically diverse group of people
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Drug Safety

A few weeks ago, I went into the bathroom of All Night Skate, a retro, roller-rink party themed bar in Brooklyn and was pleasantly surprised to see a small plastic container that I hadn’t seen there before. A note adorned it, advertising free fentanyl test strips for anyone to grab. “Take only as many as you need,” the sign read. I opened the container and it was empty.

There’s so much going on in the world that unless you live in a place where people openly acknowledge that drugs exist, it’s easy to forget that we’re in the midst of one of the worst overdose crises ever. The magnitude of the fentanyl problem is difficult to grasp so here’s a sobering statistics for scale: According to Families Against Fentanyl, overdose deaths from that opioid is now the leading cause of death among people aged 18-45, surpassing COVID, car accidents and sucide. More than 91,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2020 — many of them accidental — which is the highest number since the National Institute on Drug Abuse started keeping track in 1999.

Luckily, bars and nightlife venues in some cities are starting to take serious action and will hopefully set an example for other public spaces to do the same. It’s worthwhile to note that if you’re not knowingly taking fentanyl, it can be laced into other drugs, including cocaine and even weed — although it’s believed that cases of fentanyl-laced weed are super rare have been irresponsibly over reported by officials as an anti-weed scare tactic. It can also be slipped into alcoholic drinks as a roofie.

There are several non-profits like FentCheck, which supplies its strips from BTNX, that are providing free fentanyl strips and placing them in businesses across the country, per Reuters. I personally think that any restaurant, shopping mall and public place should have them readily available along with narcan (which can reverse an overdose if administered fast enough).

So now that we’re on the topic, let’s refresh how you should use a fentanyl test strip if you have one. Once you dissolve a sample of the drug into water, place the testing strip in the water for at least 15 seconds and results usually take about five minutes; one line means that there’s fentanyl, while two lines means there’s not. There are several YouTube videos that show you how to do it step-by-step. It’s time we start taking the fentanyl crisis seriously, which will mean more testing strips and narcan in as many places as we can humanly place them. If you can’t find them where you are, you can order them online or contact a local harm reduction center.