A Simple Test for Fentanyl

A Simple Test for Fentanyl

Even in tiny amounts, the synthetic opioid fentanyl can be deadly. Dealers cut it into everything from heroin and cocaine to counterfeit versions of Xanax and Adderall, in attempts to stretch quantities and increase potency. In fact, four out of every 10 fentanyl-laced pills contain a potentially lethal dose, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

The practice has caused an alarming number of deaths in Chicago. In 2020, at least 1,303 Chicagoans died of opioid-related overdoses — 86% of them involving fentanyl. Cook County reports that once fully counted, 2021’s opioid-related deaths will surpass 2,100 cases for the county.

You can’t see fentanyl by looking at a drug, but there is an easy test. Since October 2021, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has distributed more than 7,500 test kits through 60 community organizations, including Thresholds, Family Guidance Centers, and the West Side Heroin Opioid Task Force. Now, individuals can test a sample of their drug, potentially saving lives. 

Each kit contains five test strips and 30-ml. cups, a stirrer, sterile water, and treatment information. People can test “as little powder as approximately the size of a grain of rice — or the residue from a plastic baggie,” says Sarah Richardson, CDPH Grants Research Specialist.

While CDPH attempts to track results, they don’t have them for every kit distributed. Richardson says, “Given the high demand, people seem to be going through them quickly.”

Originally published in the Fall 2022/Winter 2023 print issue.