Take what happened to Prince, for example. The superstar died from some kind of overdose, we were told. Yet when prosecutors closed the case, they revealed what had truly most likely happened: The artist had taken Vicodin, but the pills were counterfeit. They were laced with fentanyl, and he'd probably not known that, or not known how much was in them. That's what killed him.
Sometimes this happens because a dealer can't afford the real stuff. Sometimes they're trying a new mixture that will elude suspicion. Sometimes they skirt laws with a substitute that the DEA has yet to schedule. "It all means users have no idea what drug they're actually getting, or what dosage," says Ross. "The margin of error between getting high and getting buried is micrograms, and it's not like these fakes are made with laboratory precision."
One of the oddest samples Ross has handled involved fake Xanax. The drugs turned out to really be PCP and two types of sedative, and within a couple of months, they popped up in five different agencies in the jurisdiction. "The PCP analog is a powerful hallucinogen," he says, "while the other two would numb you up and put you to sleep. Can you imagine tripping balls while in or close to a dream state? It'd be horrifying." Ross dubbed them "nightmare pills," and yes, we realize that some of you now really want to try it.
Meanwhile, some of this stuff is so lethal that testers have to handle it like it's some kind of bioweapon. Ross and others use masks and fume hoods. They take CPR and Narcan training. In the lab, you're always prepared in case something goes horribly wrong. One chemist, says Ross, was handling some blotting paper that he thought was LSD with gloved hands. He then used said gloved hand to wipe some sweat from his unprotected brow.
That little touch was all it took. The guy exposed himself to a new, barely tested hallucinogenic compound. "He was on a bad trip for several days, and could have died." And he was a scientist wearing science armor and getting just a smidge of drugs by accident. "Street-level users," says Ross, "of course don't take these precautions." When they take that same drug, often thinking they're just doing MDMA? They get heart attacks, strokes, and many, many deaths.
So no matter what your attitude is toward drugs or drug laws, we can surely all agree on one thing: Don't put something in your body unless you're pretty damned sure of what it is and what it does.
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For more, check out 5 Awful Things I Learned About Drugs Working At A Pharmacy and Should Kratom Be Banned? Here's What The Experts Say.
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