Portland bar offers free fentanyl tests as overdose deaths rise

“We just don’t think it should take a coroner to tell you there was fentanyl in the pill you took."

By Vandana Ravikumar
The Charlotte Observer

PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon bar recently announced that it will give out fentanyl test strips for free, hoping that the measure will help promote safer drug use.

The decision comes after the U.S. hit a record number of overdose deaths from April 2020 to April 2021 — many of them caused by fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bar, Star Bar in Portland, said on its Instagram page that they’re the first bar in Portland to be a part of FentCheck, a nonprofit focused on harm reduction.

“The tests will be available at the bar for anyone to use. Party responsibly,” the bar said in an Instagram post on Feb. 24.

FentCheck partners with different businesses to provide fentanyl test strips for free, according to the organization’s website. FentCheck has partners, or “Friends of FentCheck,” in California, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York, according to a map on its website.

“We believe that providing access to fentanyl test strips will help drug users survive the night,” FentCheck said on its website. “We aim to make drug users more self aware about the increasing prevalence of fentanyl in party drugs. We partner with local artists, activists, and community leaders to remove the stigma of drug testing.”

Scott Ayers, the owner of Rockridge Improvement Club in Oakland, California, said his bar receives around 100 test strips from FentCheck a week and restocks them almost every day.

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“Some people come in just for the strips,” Ayers told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Josh Davis, the owner of Star Bar, told KGW 8 that around 160 customers have received fentanyl strips from the bar so far.


A post shared by Star Bar PDX (@starbarpdx)

“It’s harm reduction, that’s it. It’s not condoning [drug use],” Davis told the outlet. “I don’t feel like it should be controversial because fentanyl is an issue; it’s the number one cause of death for people 18 to 45 in this country right now.”

“We just don’t think it should take a coroner to tell you there was fentanyl in the pill you took,” Dean Shold, co-founder of FentCheck, told the outlet.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than morphine. Other drugs are often “cut” with fentanyl to make them stronger, meaning that people may take the substance unknowingly when using other drugs, and just 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal, the agency said.

In April 2021, the CDC and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced that federal funding could be used to purchase rapid fentanyl test strips to help reduce overdose-related deaths.

That announcement came in the wake of the U.S. hitting a record number of overdose-related deaths during the first 12 months after the start of the coronavirus pandemic. There were over 100,000 deaths caused by drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021, driven not only by fentanyl but also by the impact the pandemic had on many Americans’ mental health, especially those who already struggled with substance abuse, McClatchy News reported.

Star Bar keeps a bowl of free fentanyl strips on the bar counter for customers to take, no questions asked, KATU reported. Davis told the outlet that he also keeps Narcan, a medicine that rapidly treats an opioid overdose, behind the counter.

“My personal connection is that I care about my customers and care about the community,” Davis told KATU. “And then there is a more personal connection where I did lose friends. If that could’ve been prevented or I can help prevent that in any way then sure.”

©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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