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Fentanyl test strips could save your life this New Year’s Eve

Alison Heller, co-founder of FentCheck, smokes in the outdoor patio in The Sycamore on Mission Street. The Sycamore was one of the first San Francisco locations to offer FentCheck strips to patrons who ask for it, and Heller is a regular there. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest party nights of the year. Given increasing concern about accidental overdoses linked to fentanyl-laced drugs, those planning to use illicit drugs that come in the form of pills or powder may be looking toward harm-reduction tools to ensure they and their friends make it through the night without ending up in the hospital or worse.

Fentanyl test strips, which are available at bars, clubs and community spaces throughout the Bay Area, are a quick and easy way to guard against the inadvertent ingestion of the powerful synthetic opioid.

According to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is sometimes found in cocaine, ketamine and other recreational drugs.

It can not be detected by sight, smell, taste or touch, but fentanyl test strips can detect the presence of the drug, which is particularly dangerous for those who do not regularly use opioids.

Of course, the only foolproof way to prevent an overdose is to abstain from drugs entirely. But if you or someone you’re with chooses to use, arming yourself with test strips and other easily accessible harm-reduction resources, like the overdose prevention drug naloxone (commonly called Narcan), you can prepare for New Year’s Eve with greater peace of mind. 

How To Use Fentanyl Test Strips 

This guide draws on online resources from the National Harm Reduction Coalition, the New York Department of Public Health and FentCheck, a local fentanyl test strip educator and distributor: 

  1. Dissolve your dose in water. Taking 50mg samples is better than not testing, but the most effective way to test is to dissolve the entire dose or bag. Mix it up thoroughly.
  2. Dip the dotted end of the test strip into the mixture. You’ll have results in less than a minute.
  3. One line on your test strip: The drug contains fentanyl.
    Two lines: There is no detectable fentanyl.
    No lines: The test is invalid.

    Note that test strips are not always accurate. Even if your sample tests negative, you should still proceed with caution and have Narcan on hand. These test strips do not always produce accurate results when used to test methamphetamine or MDMA.

According to the New York City Department of Health, you can still use the drugs after dissolving them in water and testing them. You’ll just need to wait for the water to evaporate or consume it in liquid form. For drugs you snort, you can transfer the solution into a nasal inhaler bottle. For drugs you ingest orally, you can simply drink portions of the solution.

If you or someone you’re with does overdose, naloxone (commonly called Narcan) can reverse the effects

How To Use Narcan

If the victim does not appear to be breathing and is not reacting when you try to rouse them, follow these steps:

1. Call 911, and leave the phone on speaker.

2. Lay the person on their back. Support their neck with your hand.

3. Spray the entire dose of naloxone into one nostril and look for signs of breathing. Naloxone can take 2-3 minutes to work.

If the victim wakes up:

Tell them what happened: “Friend, you were overdosing. Everything is OK.” The person will be disoriented. Give them some space and gently start talking to them, welcoming them back into consciousness. Stay with the person until medical professionals arrive. Naloxone can wear off as soon as 30 minutes after a dose, and victims can resume overdosing if it wears off.

If the victim doesn’t wake up:

Spray the second dose of naloxone in the opposite nostril. Some overdose cases will require 4-6 sprays of naloxone to revive the victim. Administer rescue breathing and CPR if you have been trained. Turn the person on their side to prevent choking and stay until medical professionals arrive, if possible. 

Also, check out our complete guide for how to use and where to find free Narcan. 

Where To Find Fentanyl Test Strips

FentCheck has created a map of where to find fentanyl test strips at local businesses and nonprofits:

Substance Abuse Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use issue, there are resources throughout the Bay Area where you can access support. Here are a couple of guides compiled by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration