Just about any recreational drug can be laced with illicit fentanyl, which is very dangerous. By detecting whether other drugs are laced with fentanyl, fentanyl test strips can help prevent an opioid overdose.
To test illicit drugs for fentanyl, dissolve some or all of the drug in water and dip the fentanyl test strip into the solution. Most fentanyl test strips give results within minutes.
You can get fentanyl test strips for free at some community harm reduction centers. In addition, the strips are inexpensive to order online.
Taking illegally manufactured fentanyl is unsafe and can cause a fatal overdose. But it is very difficult to know whether illicit drugs contain fentanyl. Virtually any type of recreational drug obtained from a nonmedical source may be laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl has been found in heroin, cocaine, MDMA (aka ecstasy or molly), ketamine, methamphetamine, cannabis, and counterfeit prescription painkillers. In fact, the majority of overdose deaths now involve synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl.
Fentanyl test strips help you rapidly detect fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in a batch of drugs. Using the strips can reduce your risk of taking tainted, and potentially life-threatening, substances.
If you or a loved one uses illicit drugs, take steps to prevent a fentanyl overdose. Carry, use, and share fentanyl test strips, which can save lives.
Carry naloxone, an over-the-counter nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose.
If you suspect someone is experiencing an opioid overdose, call 911 and administer naloxone if it’s available. Keep the person awake and lying on their side until first responders arrive. Learn more.
Black-market drug suppliers increasingly mix illicit drugs, including counterfeit prescription opioids, with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Suppliers do this because mixing drugs with fentanyl makes them cheaper and more addictive.
However, lacing drugs with fentanyl makes them far more likely to cause accidental overdoses, which can be lethal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, taking even the smallest amount of fentanyl — an amount equal to three grains of salt — can be harmful or deadly. In 2021, about 66% of the estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States were linked to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Without testing, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether drugs are free of fentanyl. Fentanyl can’t be seen, tasted, or smelled. Fentanyl test strips are a simple, low-cost tool used to rapidly check for fentanyl in a batch of drugs — including in tablets, powders, and injectable liquids.
Fentanyl test strips are one tool for preventing an opioid overdose. Consider taking these additional steps for safety:
Recovery from opioid dependence is possible. Find a treatment provider near you.
Not all fentanyl test kits are exactly alike, so always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
The general steps for most test kits are as follows:
If your drugs are laced with fentanyl, the fentanyl may not be distributed evenly throughout the supply. That’s why experts recommend testing the entire drug supply. The test strips can also be used to test very small samples or even the residue of the supply.
Most tests kits require you to test at least 10 milligrams. Some tests come with a milligram scale or a 10-milligram scoop and require different dilution processes.
The ratio of drugs to water may differ depending on the substance or type of test kit. As a general rule, experts recommend:
Remember, fentanyl test strips are not all the same. Use the test kit exactly as directed.
Most fentanyl test strips provide rapid results in the following ways:
Fentanyl test strips can tell you whether fentanyl is present in a drug supply but not the amount or strength of the fentanyl present. And if you test only a portion of the drugs, you can miss fentanyl in other parts of the supply.
Fentanyl strips are a reliable way to rapidly detect the presence of fentanyl in illicit drugs. By one estimate, they are 92%–96% effective in detecting fentanyl. The most common reason that fentanyl test strips fail is user error, so be sure to closely follow the test kit instructions.
Because fentanyl tests are not 100% accurate, a negative result does not guarantee that your drug sample is free from all synthetic opioids or other harmful substances. Fentanyl test strips can’t detect certain other synthetic opioids, such as isotonitazene.
In addition, it is possible for one portion of a drug to contain fentanyl while another does not. This is known as the “chocolate chip cookie effect.”
For these reasons, the surest way to avoid an overdose is to not take illicit drugs.
Fentanyl test kits can help you determine whether illicit drugs contain fentanyl.
But even illicit drugs that are tested should not be considered “safe.” Consuming almost any drug — especially one sold illegally — carries some inherent risk.
Recovery from a substance use disorder is possible. Learn how to create a recovery plan.
Here’s what to know about getting fentanyl test strips:
State laws are evolving. Many states once categorized fentanyl test strips as illegal drug paraphernalia. Now, more than half of U.S. states have passed laws allowing people to buy and use fentanyl test strips. Check your local laws to see if there are any restrictions in your area.
There may be free or low-cost distribution programs in your area. Look for public health agencies or organizations in your area that offer free or low-cost fentanyl test strips. These may include harm reduction organizations, opioid overdose prevention programs, or needle exchanges.
You can order fentanyl test strips online. You can buy fentanyl test strips for $1–$2 per single-use strip. Retailers and nonprofit organizations that sell and ship fentanyl test strips include Amazon, BTNX, Bunk Police, DanceSafe, Dosetest, North American Syringe Exchange Network (NASEN) Buyers Club, and Walmart.
Content reviewed by Jasleen Salwan, MD, MPH, FASAM, August 2023.