A digital image of fentanyl test strips and the words "test strips don't guarantee fentanyl free drugs" mixed in.
(Courtesy West Oakland Punks With Lunch)

Fentanyl test strips are a great way to reduce the risk of a fentanyl related overdose, but they are never a 100 percent guarantee. When using fentanyl test strips keep in mind:

• Harm reductionists are not using the strips as they were designed, they’re meant to test urine! But because people who use drugs are creative and resourceful, they have been repurposed to test drugs. 

• Test strips test for fentanyl, a dozen analogs, and that’s it. There are many more analogs that can cause overdose that test strips don’t detect. 

• Test strips are not 100 percent accurate. There have been reports of false positives and false negatives, and user error is common. 

• Known as the “chocolate chip cookie effect” fentanyl or other substances can be inconsistently mixed throughout a dose, batch, or baggie. This means the test strip may not detect fentanyl or an analog even though it’s present. 

Test strips are one of many useful interventions but don’t forget to also do the following: use with others so someone is there so reverse a potential overdose, investigate the look, taste, and smell to detect inconsistencies, if multiple people are using drugs stagger each person’s use, and do a test shot/line. And even after doing all of these and using test strips, there’s still risk of overdose! As long as drugs are illegal the supply with be inconsistent and present potential for overdose. 

August 31 was Overdose Awareness Day. We took that day to to honor those whose lives have been lost to overdose, in particular the 14 fatal overdoses that were reported to us over the past year from our program participants. At the same time, we remind ourselves that these deaths were and continue to be 100 percent preventable by way of interventions like wide-spread naloxone distribution, safe supply, and overdose prevention sites. Overdose remains the leading cause of accidental death in California and yet it was not mentioned one time in this year’s $308 billion state budget, and from October 2020 through September 2021, over 10,000 people died from overdose in California. In the last year West Oakland Punks with Lunch distributed 3,700+ naloxone kits, and as a direct result participants reported 440 overdose reversals. While we take today to honor and uplift the 14 lives lost, we also celebrate the 440 community members who saved lives, most of whom are people who use drugs. 

Stay safe, we love you. 

West Oakland Punks With Lunch (PWL) is a nonprofit, non religious, DIY organization that hands out lunches, harm reduction supplies, and more to our neighbors on Ohlone land.