The nonprofit group Max's Mission will give out test strips that can detect whether street drugs are laced with fentanyl -- the deadliest drug in America.
The giveaway will take place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave.
Max's Mission will also hand out free naloxone, an easy-to-use nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose. Opioids include street drugs like heroin, as well as prescription pain pills such as oxycodone.
Dealers have begun mixing fentanyl into heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, counterfeit pain pills and other drugs. Cheap and powerful, some types of fentanyl are used to tranquilize elephants.
In powder form, a fentanyl dose fatal to humans is smaller than Abraham Lincoln’s face on a penny, according to medical experts.
"Fentanyl has been the major killer of people across this country," said Jacksonville resident Julia Pinsky, who founded Max's Mission after her son died of a heroin overdose.
The fentanyl scourge has spread to the West Coast.
It became America's deadliest drug in 2016, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in December 2018 that analyzed death certificate data.
In 2011, fentanyl was involved in just 4 percent of drug overdose fatalities. But fentanyl was linked to 29 percent of overdose deaths in 2016, killing 18,335 people that year, the federal agency reported.
Heroin was the second-most deadly drug in 2016, killing 15,961. The prescription painkiller oxycodone has dropped to sixth place as doctors have grown more cautious about prescribing the addictive medication.
America recorded 63,632 overdose deaths in 2016 — eclipsing the 58,220 U.S. military casualties during the Vietnam War.
Overdose deaths surpassed 72,000 in 2017, according to preliminary estimates by the CDC.
During Wednesday’s giveaway of fentanyl test strips and naloxone, people can learn how to use the test strips and the overdose antidote in about 45 minutes. Members of the public are welcome to drop in at any time during the event.
Fentanyl test strips traditionally have been used to detect the drug in urine. But heroin, cocaine, crushed pain pills and other drugs can be mixed with water and tested with the strips.
If a test strip does detect the presence of fentanyl, Pinsky said a person who is using drugs can then decide what to do.
The safest course of action is to not use that batch of drugs, she said.
However, some may choose to go ahead and use the drugs. In that case, they should take a small dose and make sure someone else is present and able to deliver an overdose antidote, Pinsky said.
She said people in the grip of addiction are not thinking logically.
“By having the strips, hopefully we will help people be more cautious, to be safer and also realize how dangerous it is,” Pinsky.
She hopes to keep people alive so they can eventually reach the point where they seek help with their addiction.
“Four of five people started on prescription opioids who now use street drugs. These people are not some other group of people. They are your neighbors, your family, your loved ones, the people you see in your community,” Pinsky said.
For more information on Max’s Mission and its overdose prevention events, see maxsmission.org.
For information about addiction treatment options and providers, see staysafeoregon.com.