“Dealers are lacing cocaine, cannabis, and other drugs with fentanyl”
The Tired Narrative:
Drug dealers are deliberately mixing fentanyl into other drugs, like cannabis and cocaine, to make their product more “attractive” to customers. Members of the law enforcement community, from the Drug Enforcement Administration to local detectives, claim that dealers are lacing non-opioid drugs with powerful opioids to "hook" more customers.
The Informed Narrative:
There are a number of reasons why the “fentanyl-laced” drug supply narrative should be viewed skeptically.
First, a number of news articles claiming that cannabis or cocaine tested positive for fentanyl are false and/or unsubstantiated and not based on actual toxicological testing. Second, authorities who have said cocaine is being laced with fentanyl have sometimes based their claims on autopsy reports, which merely show multiple drugs were present in one’s system at the time of death. Without samples of the drugs in question, there is no way to tell whether or not a user intentionally mixed the drugs together in what is known as a “speedball.”
Lastly, there is no evidence that drug dealers are intentionally adding powerful opioids to drugs like cocaine and cannabis. Practically, it makes little business sense for dealers to endanger the lives of their customers who are not tolerant to opioids and not seeking opioids. While there have been incidents of cocaine testing positive for trace amounts of fentanyl, this is most likely the result of cross-contamination. Despite multiple reports, there have been no documented cases of cannabis being laced with fentanyl.
Illicit fentanyl is already a dangerous and potent drug that deserves public attention and urgent action. Public health and law enforcement authorities should promote health and safety by accurately informing the public about real world risks and ways to prevent and respond to fentanyl-related overdose. For example, authorities can promote the use of fentanyl test strips, so users can check for the presence of illicit fentanyl in their drugs. Naloxone also effectively reverses fentanyl-related overdoses. Outlandish claims, like cannabis being laced with fentanyl, harkens back to the most egregious scare tactics of the War on Drugs, undermining public trust that is critical during a time of crisis.