Amidst a surge in fentanyl overdoses among people who thought they were using cocaine, the Health Department is emphasizing that it is easy to get free fentanyl testing strips and Narcan for safer drug use.

There has been a serious problem of fentanyl overdoses killing people who thought they were using cocaine going back for a few years. But that problem has taken a sudden turn for the much-worse here in the month of March 2022.

“In the past 2 weeks, SFDPH has become aware of 3 fatal overdose decedents in San Francisco who intended to use only cocaine but were unintentionally exposed to fentanyl, as well as 9 similar non-fatal events in two groups of people,” the SF Department of Public Health said in a Thursday health alert. “Fentanyl overdoses have increased precipitously in San Francisco since 2015, with an estimated 474 deaths in 2021. Fentanyl overdose deaths usually involve cocaine and/or methamphetamine.”

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist

The drug supply in San Francisco is clearly getting dirtier. Should you ever use cocaine or meth, take a good hard look at the image above, and get yourself some of these fentanyl testing strips. They are available for free through a Bay Area harm reduction called FentCheck, and you can also get free testing strips at the Community Behavioral Health Services (CBHS) Pharmacy at 1380 Howard Street.

“Ninety percent of opioid deaths in San Francisco are now due to fentanyl, so it is the most common street drug,” SF DPH director of substance use research Dr. Phillip Coffin tells the Chronicle. “It can look a lot like other drugs, or even be stamped as a pill, and every year we see people die from fentanyl who meant to use a drug like cocaine or methamphetamine."

Image: Google Street View

Above we see the CBHS Pharmacy building at 1380 Howard Street (at Fifth Street), where you can walk right in with no appointment and get a pack of free fentanyl testing strips. Their hours are  9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday,  and 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. on weekends.

They also provide free naloxone, a nasal spray commonly referred to as Narcan, which can immediately reverse an opioid overdose. Narcan is actually a brand name for one particular type of the medicine naloxone, though those of us who are not doctors use the terms interchangeably. Naloxone is a simple nasal spray, you do not need formal training to use it.

Screenshot: Google Maps

The nonprofit FentCheck has been placing free fentanyl testing strips at bars across the Bay Area for a few years. The Google Map above shows which bars are carrying them, and they’re usually in the bar’s washrooms, because that’s where people tend to snort their blow.  FentCheck strips are most prevalent at East Bay bars, but in San Francisco, you can find them at Mission District establishments Beauty Bar, Casements, the Royal Cuckoo Market, the Sycamore.

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist

The testing strips are super easy to use. You put a pinch of your stash into a shot glass’ worth of water, stick the strip into the water, and within five minutes it will tell you whether any deadly fentanyl is present in your supply.  

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist

You may think your dealer is clean, and would never sell you anything with fentanyl. But people, we remind you that your drug dealer is a drug dealer.

“You never know what’s in your drugs,” the DOPE Project’s Kristen Marshall writes at Broke-Ass Stuart. “The market is criminalized, so the supply is unregulated, inconsistent, and unpredictable. Always has been, fentanyl didn’t change that. Whether you cop from the corner of Turk and Hyde, or your dealer is just a text away and delivers discreetly to your door in Pac Heights, remember: This ain’t the cereal aisle at Safeway – no nutritional facts, no ingredients lists, and not a ton of choice. White powders all look the same, drug markets are chaotic, and mistakes happen.”

Related: Three Identified In Saturday Morning Drug Overdose Deaths In Mission District [SFist]

Images: Joe Kukura via SFist