Fentanyl is almost unthinkably strong. The synthetic opioid is 50 times more potent than heroin and has contributed to a wave of fatal overdoses in LA County. But the risks are especially high in the LGBTQ community. One reason: it’s turning up as a hidden ingredient in party drugs used by club goers.
At Long Beach Pride recently, vendors at dozens of booths were passing out the typical fare -- free condoms and rainbow branded merchandise But Erick Fletes, who does outreach for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, was giving away something different this year: fentanyl test strips.
The strips are about 3-inches long and they can detect if small traces of fentanyl have been mixed into another substance. Fentanyl has played a big role in America’s opioid epidemic all on its own but recently it's been popping up in recreational party drugs like cocaine, meth, and ecstasy. And fentanyl is now linked to deaths in LA’s gay community. These were victims who had no idea their party drugs were cut with the opioid.
For the Los Angeles LGBT Center, it’s personal. Last year a Center employee became one of those fatalities. He died of an accidental overdose from cocaine mixed with a lethal amount of fentanyl.
It was that chain of events that spurred the LGBT Center to start buying up thousands of fentanyl test strips and to look for places to distribute them. They circled Pride festivals on the calendar because it’s one place where casual drug users congregate.
“And as our CEO says just because someone chooses to party doesn’t mean that they should die," said Mike Rizzo, who heads the LGBT Center’s Meth Recovery Unit.