PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the primary driver of overdose deaths in the United States. The CDC said more than 36,000 people died from synthetic opioid ODs in 2019.
Dean Shold and Alison Heller saw a problem and developed FentCheck, a completely anonymous testing strip that, when used properly, will alert you if the drug you have is laced with fentanyl.
Shold and Heller, the co-founders of FentCheck, said the 66,000 deaths in the US last year involved fentanyl. “Even before last year, it was slowly getting worse. Ten years ago this was not an issue really. Fentanyl in cocaine, fentanyl in Molly is a really contemporary issue.”
The anonymity of FentCheck is the key, they said, since it needs to be as easy as possible. But that anonymity has a drawback. They don’t get government funding because they have no way of tracking how many tests come back positive or negative.
DEA statistics show 42% of pills tested for fentanyl contained at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl, a potentially lethal dose. The DEA said drug traffickers typically distribute fetanyl by the kilogram — and one kilogram of fentanyl could potentially kill 500,000 people.
Shold and Heller wanted to put FentCheck in places like tattoo parlors, skate shops, bars, music venues. Currently FentCheck is available in numerous locations in Oakland, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York City. But it’s only available in Oregon at the Star Bar in Southeast Portland.
Star Bar owner Josh Davis told KOIN 6 News they go through about 40 to 50 FentCheck strips a week when people walk up to the bar and grab them.
“It’s just acknowledging that drug use exists. It’s not condoing it. It’s not advocating for it,” Davis said. “It’s just acknowledging that it exists and it’s giving people a tool to make a more informed decision.”
As they look to expand FentCheck, Shold said there are 3 things they need: venues, volunteers, Venmo. They’re supported by donations. They’re starting to branch out farther and hope to spread wider in Portland and down into Eugene.