On March 24, 2015, Bryan Stalnaker, a father of six and a known drug user, overdosed in the basement of his grandmother’s home. He was a “tester” for his drug dealer, and the first to try different drug cocktails his dealer cooked up. His job was to determine the drug’s efficacy in getting users high, as well as its lethality. For all the drugs he could ever desire, he would pay the ultimate price — his life.
Street drugs are often cut with other agents. To ensure the quality of the batch, drug dealers hire drug users, like Bryan Stalnaker, to test the drugs they’ve made. There are many inherent risks involved with being a tester. Unfortunately, many drug users are more than willing to volunteer. The problem lies in the fact that most testers are unaware of the tremendous risk they are taking. They are literally putting their lives at risk each time.
The Role of Drug “Testers”
A hard-core street drug habit can cost users anywhere from $150 to $200 a day. Financially sustaining a habit is difficult, especially for functioning users. This is why many regular drug users leap at the chance of becoming a drug tester. This allows them to maintain their habit without spending a dime.
A drug tester is a human guinea pig. Drug dealers often cut drugs with various buffers and other cheaper drugs. The final product has a higher potency and can have a more powerful effect for users that have built a tolerance. The cut drugs also have a lower overhead cost. Unfortunately, a recipe book for mixing drugs does not exist. As a result, these dealers are mixing different drugs together and hoping they have a hit. The drugs need to be strong enough to entice customers to return, but not too strong that they become deadly. Heroin is especially tricky to work with.
With no pharmaceutical experience and knowledge, the dealers have no idea what the effects of their final concoction may be.
On top of that, street drugs are not made to a certain standard and are not regulated. This means that the purity of the drugs used in the mixture is also unknown. Realistically, most drug dealers have no idea what they’re mixing together. This means they have no idea whether the final product may be deadly, ineffective or a success.
Knowing the risks themselves, no dealer would be willing to test their own drugs. This is why they target and take advantage of frequent users by asking them to become drug testers.
The duties of a drug tester include:
- Confirming the efficacy of the drug; and,
- Ensuring that the concoction is not lethal for other customers
Drug testers often test a wide variety of different drugs and various batches on a regular basis. Upon getting a positive review or input, the dealers then sell the drugs to other customers.
The Dangers of Being a Human Guinea Pig
Human guinea pigs, or drug testers, are given as many free street drugs as they can take. To some addicts, this may seem like a dream come true since the dealers do not advertise the inherent risks.
The truth of the matter is that being a human guinea pig is risky. There is no guarantee on what can happen and how the drugs may affect the body.
The biochemical effects of the concoction of drugs are unknown, as well as the side effects and long-term effects. There is no research available on how the different drugs will react with one another when mixed together. Different molecules may link up and create an entirely different substance. On top of that, the amount of each of the different drugs mixed into the final concoction is unknown. Since dealers have no way of knowing whether their supply is already contaminated, it’s a big gamble to make.
Tester have a higher chance of overdosing if they get a bad batch. Among drug users, heroin users and testers are most likely to overdose, and 1 in 10 overdoses are lethal.
Increasing deaths caused by fentanyl overdoses
The most common drug tested by testers is heroin. This is probably because heroin is one of the most addictive drugs out there. It causes a huge increase in the production of dopamine to create a euphoric sensation. Heroin is so addictive that 1 out of 4 people who try this drug will become addicted to it.
Much like many other street drugs, heroin is often mixed with various synthetic alternatives to create a bigger buzz. The combination of various cutting agents mimic and enhance certain drug qualities desired by drug addicts. On average, street drugs like heroin and cocaine are only 30% pure.
One of the most common cutting agents mixed with heroin is fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic form of heroin. It makes the heroin much more potent, and the stronger and more powerful effects are highly sought after by regular drug users. Regular users have often developed a tolerance to heroin.
Unfortunately, even a little bit of fentanyl can be lethal, as it is much more potent than heroin. According to the Centers of Disease and Control, heroin laced with fentanyl has driven a significant increase in fatal overdoses. In fact, the rate of overdoses caused by synthetic heroin doubled in 2014 from 2013. Although fentanyl is responsible for many overdoses, it is still a common cutting agent found in many street drugs today.
Fentanyl overdoses do not happen to drug testers only. Since fentanyl is lethal in milligram doses, only high-tech equipment can accurately measure its weight. Drug dealers don’t have these types of high-tech equipment sitting in their kitchen. When mixing the drugs at home, they’re doing so by eye. This means that the exact quantity added is unknown. In addition, the fentanyl may not always be thoroughly mixed into the heroin. There might be a higher concentration in some areas. As a result, some batches may have lethal quantities of fentanyl and some batches may have none at all.
Other side effects and cutting agents
Fentanyl is not the only cutting agent used. Phenobarbital, quinine and scopolamine are also used. Some of these agents have psychoactive properties that facilitate the smoking of the drug while others improve the taste. These beneficial drug properties encourage drug dealers to keep adding them to the heroin.
Although cutting agents improve some aspects of the heroin, they also come with many negative side effects. Other than death, cutting agents added to heroin may cause acute renal failure, thrombosis and blindness. Drug testers are most prone to these side effects, as their exposure to cutting agents is higher.
Potential solution for testing drugs for fentanyl
The only way to prevent fentanyl overdose is to confirm that the drugs do not contain any at all. Medical laboratories have designed a cheap drug test to detect fentanyl. These strips were first designed for urine testing, but can be used to test drugs diluted in water. These strip tests work similarly to pregnancy tests. One line indicates fentanyl presence in the drug; Two lines indicate an absence of this deadly opioid.
Other Types of Cutting Agents Added to Various Drugs
Heroin is not the only drug with added cutting agents. Cocaine, meth, ecstasy and cannabis are often cut with other agents as well. For example, lidocaine, hydroxyzine, phenacetin and levamisole are often cut with cocaine. These cutting agents can cause cardiovascular and central nervous system problems. The health consequences for the other agents added to the other drugs also aren’t pretty. These cutting agents can lead to the development of cancer, renal failure, heat stroke, rapid heart rates and even mood disturbances.
Once again, it is almost impossible to detect the exact levels and even — at times — the presence of these cutting agents in the drugs. Drug testers are often subjected to higher levels of cutting agents than regular drug users. This can result in an increased risk of overdose or other health complications.
Ever Present Risk of Taking Street Drugs
Being a drug tester is definitely not as great as it may sound. It comes with many risks and scary consequences. Even if you’re not a human guinea pig for drug dealers, there’s still a huge risk involved in taking street drugs. The quality of the drugs is hard to discern. There’s absolutely no guarantee what’s in each batch. While drug testers are putting their lives on the line every day, the truth is that all users are putting themselves in a risky situation, albeit to a lesser degree, when doing drugs.
The only way to mitigate risks and to stay healthy is to become sober. Fortunately, there are plenty of rehab programs available that will offer addicts the support they need for getting sober. These programs rely on pharmacotherapy treatments, counseling and other treatment methods. They help users not only become sober, but also stay sober and avoid relapsing. The road to sobriety may not be easy, but with the right support, you’ll have a better chance at getting to a better place.