Electronic dance

Why it is important to test drugs before they are used

Photo credit: DanceSafe

With fentanyl-related deaths and overdoses at an all-time high, individuals need to be safe when it comes to consumption.

This year, May 10 has become the very first National Fentanyl Awareness Day intentionally set during Mental Health Awareness Month and intended to draw attention to the growing opioid epidemic in the United States. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is odorless, tasteless and potent.

For this reason, dealers often use the drug to manufacture fake prescription pills such as Oxycodone, Percocet, and Xanax. And now it often ends up in party drugs through cross-contamination in drug kitchens. These opioid overdoses are killing individuals at an alarming rate, wiping people out of their families far too soon. Fentanyl kills more Americans under 50 than any other cause of death. Teenagers are the age group most affected by this situation.

In 2021, 77% of all adolescent drug deaths were associated with fentanyl. That’s a terrifying number, so it’s extremely important to test your drugs before festivals and shows. Remember, educating yourself and others about the dangers of fentanyl, while knowing the signs of an overdose, can save lives. Teenagers in the United States are also the less knowledgeable about fentanyl and its side effects, with 66% not knowing what fentanyl is and 73% not knowing fentanyl in fake pills.

What are the signs of a Fentanyl overdose?

  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Skin turning blue
  • The body becomes limp
  • Vomiting
  • Awake but unable to speak
  • Choking or gurgling noises, humming noise
  • Slow or no heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness
DanceSafe Drug Screening
Photo credit: DanceSafe

Why should you test your medications?

No one really knows the source of their drugs. Life is not an episode of Breaking Bad, where you know a chemist makes it in a clean lab or environment that involves any type of sanitation. However, it’s comparable to the start of the series where Walt and Jesse cook in a dirty, dusty Winnebago. Cross-contamination is a very real and very common thing that happens to medications. Commonly contaminated drugs include MDMA, benzodiazepines, fake prescription pills, ketamine, and cocaine.

When we spoke to Rachel Clark from DanceSafe, she discussed stigma and drug education.

Much of the stigma stems from cognitive dissonance. This idea that something is one-sided and when presented with alternative information, well, people tend to get overwhelmed with the idea that what they knew was wrong. Ultimately, it’s a matter of informed consent. If you give people truthful, factual and unbiased information, it empowers them to be empowered in their decision-making about their own body and gain a broader understanding of what it means to someone be independent.

Much of drug education is based on emotion and much of drug policy is also based on emotion, racism and classism. If we had based drug laws on science, we wouldn’t have drug laws. Understanding how drugs work physiologically and psychologically, I think is paramount to giving people the ability to be, like, ‘Oh, that thing I thought about, why am I thinking that?” To give people the opportunity to really think about and interact with their thoughts about drugs and decide if what they have internalized before was based on facts or emotions.

We need to get people to popularize safer drug use as something that’s fucking cool and really caring about.

– Rachel Clark, DanceSafe Communications Coordinator

People in the community who advocate for harm reduction and safe festivals are all for it. It’s totally cool to be safe and to be aware of what’s going on in your body.

Members of the electronic dance music community who chose to participate had used drugs at some point without knowing exactly what was in them. Before test kits were widely available online and at some festivals, it was common to take your meds, go about your day as if nothing had happened, and then all of a sudden someone on your team got sick or vanishes into the crowd.

Due to these experiences that fans have witnessed or experienced themselves, many in the community recommend testing before consuming, while staying hydrated. Testing is cheap and easy. The reason these test kits have become more popular is due to unfortunate deaths and overdoses. Deaths related to this illicit drug among 14 to 18 year olds rose 169% in 2020, according to the American Medical Association and FentanylAwarenessDay.org.

Dance safe drug test strips

How can you test?

Reagent test is the easiest and easiest way to test. Reagents are solutions that when mixed with different drugs change color. There are even specific strips for testing fentanyl. Match the color of the solution with the DanceSafe Color chart can help determine if the drug you think you have is actually the one you have. Cross-testing with multiple reagents ensures you get what you want and don’t get what you don’t. However, the reagent test does not not determine the purity of your medications or tell you a lot about otherwise called “layered” fillers, such as baking soda.

If you do nothing else, please use fentanyl test strips. These are very inexpensive and can quickly indicate the presence of fentanyl. Although using these test strips is relatively easy, there are a few considerations:

  1. It is important to measure out a small enough amount of your medicine and these micro spoons can help. Testing too much of your medicine will return a false positive every time
  2. If you measure and test correctly and get a positive result, PLEASE discard this entire medication as the risk is too great to handle.
  3. Beware of the “chocolate chip cookie” effect where the scoop you are testing may not contain fentanyl, but it may still be present

There is also another more accurate way to test your medications. You can do this using the mass spectrometer, but this method is not readily available and is often prohibitively expensive. If you somehow have access to testing on a mass spectrometer, it can be so valuable that you’ll get the full CSI-like report of everything in your stuff. DanceSafe brings them to some of the biggest festivals and some urban health programs have also quietly offered access to them.

Ready to start testing? Purchase reagent test kits from the DanceSafe website before your next show or festival!

Dancing Safe Drug Test Swatches

Sources: New York Post, American Medical Association, National Fentanyl Awareness Day, DanceSafe.