‘We’re making harm reduction cool’: overdose reversal Narcan becomes a rave essential

As recreational drugs like cocaine are increasingly cut with fentanyl, a movement has sprung up to prevent deaths in nightclubs

Published by The Guardian

It’s Saturday night in Los Angeles, and Marie is heading to a rave downtown. She arrives before the doors open, creating a chillout zone by fluffing out a rug and pillows. Then, she lays a hundred little green packets on a table, and waits for strangers to approach.

Around midnight, an agitated man walks over and pulls a bag of white powder from his pocket. “Can you help me test this?” he pleads. “I don’t want to die.”

Marie rips open one of the green packets. Inside: testing strips that can detect whether substances like cocaine and ketamine contain fentanyl, a deadly opioid that’s increasingly infiltrating the street drug supply. Scooping out some powder from the bag, she dilutes the sample in water, and dips a test strip inside. One line: positive. The man runs back into the party and confronts his drug dealer. But the dealer denies it’s her batch. “I tested my drugs at home,” she says, “and it was negative on every supply”.

So Marie tests the drug dealer’s drugs too. Two lines: negative. Now everyone’s confused. In the end, the man throws his bag into the trash: better safe than dead.

Marie is one of the many harm reduction workers helping distribute testing strips in leisure spaces. Fentanyl testing strips as well as the opioid-reversal drug naloxone (commonly known as Narcan) are becoming the sine qua non of the party scene, distributed everywhere cultural denizens hang out: nightclubs, art galleries, downtown streetwear stores, even housewarming parties in Brooklyn.