Repackaged Drug Field Tests Being Marketed As 'New' Tool For Police

By Victoria Kim 01/10/17

A recent report uncovered how some companies are capitalizing on the police's fears surrounding the fentanyl epidemic. 

NARK II drug testing kit
Photo via YouTube

Fentanyl’s growing presence in the illicit drug market is becoming more known. As early as March 2015, the DEA was already warning the public about heroin laced with the synthetic opioid. 

According to police reporting of fentanyl seizures across the U.S., the potent painkiller is most prevalent in New England and Appalachia. This agrees with a recent analysis by the Washington Post, which found that fatal heroin overdoses have been the most concentrated in these regions.

Now, a new report by the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism outlet, ProPublica, has revealed that some companies are shoddily capitalizing on America’s fentanyl problem. The report found that a “new” fentanyl drug testing kit, called NARK II, is being aggressively marketed to police departments nationwide, but is nothing more than a “repurposed chemical test” with a different name and a 22% price mark-up.

In a written statement, Sirchie, the company responsible for marketing NARK II and a leading supplier of law enforcement equipment, responded to the report. The company’s president, John Roby, emphasized that Sirchie independently validated that NARK II can detect the presence of fentanyl and distinguish it from other substances. He said that though the new test may not be different from the others, it is “not defined by the chemical composition.”

But according to the report, the same color that is supposed to mark the presence of fentanyl can be set off by more than 20 other substances, both legal and illegal. It’s a problem that’s marred the credibility of these field tests for many years.

These cheap drug tests used by law enforcement are “prone to error,” ProPublica’s Ryan Gabrielson notes, and have landed many innocent people in jail. The report highlights the issues with police departments relying heavily on the kits to arrest and incarcerate people. In Houston alone, such field tests led to more than 300 wrongful convictions in the past decade. Now, a lab test is required before a plea deal can be reached.

The idea of fentanyl test kits has become more popular amid concerns of rising overdoses. Last fall, a pharmacy in Manitoba, one of Canada’s 10 provinces, made headlines when it decided to offer $5 drug test kits that could detect fentanyl. But the pharmacy was told to discontinue sales of the kit “due to the possibility of false negatives” by the pharmacy regulatory authority, the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba.

The kit was the same one used at the Insite harm reduction clinic in Vancouver. After just one month of testing street drugs, the clinic found that 86% of the substances tested positive for fentanyl.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr