Watch: Fentanyl Safety Campaign Poses the “Coke Challenge”

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    US-based harm reduction group DanceSafe and Canadian creative agency The Garden have partnered to present the “Coke Challenge” ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. It’s an educational campaign aimed at encouraging cocaine users to test their drug with fentanyl test strips.

    The video (which you can watch above, or here) features a man in a public park inviting passers-by to take the “coke challenge” by distinguishing between a bag of pure cocaine and a bag of cocaine adulterated with fentanyl. A woman investigating the bags notes that they look and feel the same. When she asks if she can smell the difference, the man reminds her that fentanyl is odorless.

    He shows the participants how instead to use a paper fentanyl testing strip and some water to check the purity of their drugs. One red line means the drug tests positive for fentanyl; two red lines mean it’s negative. The participants are surprised at how simple the process is: “Friday night in the bars, I’m bringing this,” one man remarks.

    “Naloxone has been successful in reversing opioid overdoses, but fentanyl test strips can prevent overdoses in the first place,” said Emanuel Sferios, founder of DanceSafe. DanceSafe noted that 80,000 people die of drug overdose each year in the US and Canada.

    Christopher Moraff previously reported for Filter on how he spent a year testing many samples of different street drugs in Philadelphia for fentanyl. In his tests, roughly two out of 10 bags of powder cocaine tested positive for fentanyl or its analogues.

    Since 2016 there has been a faster increase in deaths related to fentanyl-laced cocaine combinations than those caused by fentanyl-laced heroin. This issue is perhaps more consequential for cocaine users, because they may be less aware of the possibility of fentanyl in their drugs, and have less tolerance to it, than opioid users.

    The public visibility of the “opioid crisis” has somewhat obscured an increasing number of deaths from stimulant use. Harm reduction interventions like safe consumption spaces can benefit stimulant users by understanding their unique needs.

    • Alexander Lekhtman

      Alexander’s journalism covers the policy, science and culture of drugs. His journey began as an activist with Students for Sensible Drug Policy at New York University, where he served as president, helping organize marijuana legalization and “Ban the Box” campaigns. He was also an organizer for the 2017 New York City Cannabis Parade. His drug journalism career began in 2016, and his work has been published in High Times, Leafly, Merry Jane, AlterNet, Psymposia and Psychedelic Times. Alexander was previously Filter‘s editorial fellow.

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