Drug testing services have been promoted as a way to enhance safety among recreational drug users, but Nitazenes—a new and exceedingly dangerous class of synthetic opioids—expose the severe limitations of this approach. As festival season approaches, the false sense of security provided by drug checking services becomes particularly troubling.

Recreational drug users often believe they can ensure their safety by testing their Ecstasy pills or Cocaine before consumption. This practice gives them an illusion of safety, assuming that knowing the contents of their drugs protects them from harm. In stark contrast, addicted individuals—often from our poorest communities—do not have the luxury to test their substances. For them, every dose is crucial, and the notion of testing is an unaffordable extravagance. This disparity is particularly alarming as Nitazenes, some of the most dangerous drugs ever encountered, are now infiltrating the cocaine and MDMA supply.

The Flaws in Drug Checking Services

Accuracy and Reliability Issues:

Many drug checking methods, such as Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, have significant limitations in detecting all harmful substances, particularly at low concentrations. This can result in false negatives, providing users with a false sense of security. The detection limits of these technologies, especially with potent substances like fentanyl analogs and Nitazenes, can lead to dangerous oversights. These limitations undermine the effectiveness of drug checking services and can have deadly consequences (Tobias et al., 2022; Bardwell et al., 2021; Wright et al., 2022)​ (BioMed Central)​​ (Oxford Academic)​​ (BioMed Central)​.

Resource and Accessibility Barriers:

The resources and time required for drug checking are significant barriers for many users, particularly those in vulnerable communities who cannot afford to spare even a small portion of their drugs for testing. This limitation is exacerbated for those in poorer communities who are already struggling to manage their addiction with limited resources. These barriers make drug checking services largely inaccessible to the populations most at risk (Bardwell et al., 2021; Public Health Ontario, 2022)​ (BioMed Central)​​ (BioMed Central)​.

Potential to Encourage Drug Use:

Promoting drug checking services dangerously encourages drug use by creating a deceptive sense of safety. This is especially perilous when it comes to highly potent and unpredictable substances like Nitazenes. Critics assert that efforts should be concentrated on reducing drug use rather than instilling a false sense of security through drug checking. The illusion of safety these services provide is not only misleading but can also lead to more reckless drug consumption, exacerbating the risks associated with these lethal substances (Harm Reduction Journal, 2023; Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 2022)​ (BioMed Central)​​ (BioMed Central)​.

Limited Real-World Impact:

The real-world effectiveness of drug checking services is also questioned. While these services may be beneficial in controlled settings, their impact in broader, more varied environments is limited. Implementation often faces significant logistical, legal, and social barriers, reducing their overall effectiveness and reach. These barriers are often insurmountable in the communities most affected by drug-related harms (Bardwell et al., 2021; Wright et al., 2022)​ (BioMed Central)​​ (BioMed Central)​.

Socioeconomic Disparities:

Drug checking services often fail to address the underlying socioeconomic disparities that contribute to drug use and addiction. While they may provide some illusion of safety for recreational users, they do little to help those in less affluent communities who face the most severe consequences of drug use. This disparity underscores the need for more comprehensive and equitable approaches to addressing drug-related harms (Harm Reduction Journal, 2023; Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 2022)​ (BioMed Central)​​ (BioMed Central)​.

The Dangers of Nitazenes

Nitazenes are synthetic opioids far more potent than fentanyl and morphine. These drugs, including isotonitazene and metonitazene, have been linked to numerous overdose deaths due to their extreme potency and the risk of contamination in recreational drug supplies. Alarmingly, Nitazenes are now being found in a variety of street drugs that are sold as valium, cocaine and MDMA, significantly increasing the danger of overdose. This contamination renders drug checking services ineffective, as they cannot reliably detect these highly potent substances, fundamentally undermining the premise of drug checking as a safety measure. The unpredictable and lethal nature of Nitazenes highlights the urgent need for more effective strategies to reduce drug use and prevent fatalities (Cureus, 2023; The Pharmaceutical Journal, 2024; CDC, 2022)​


The current message promoting drug checking services is increasingly irresponsible as more Nitazenes enter the party drug scene with such lethal consequences. The message will undoubtedly change rapidly when middle-class recreational users start to die. We must address this growing crisis with urgency, emphasising that no drug is truly safe and advocating for widespread awareness and comprehensive measures to protect all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

In conclusion, while drug testing may seem a step towards safety, Nitazenes reveal its severe limitations and inequities. The illusion of safety for some cannot justify the escalating risks for others. It’s time for a paradigm shift in our approach to drug safety—one that acknowledges the realities of all users and strives to protect everyone from the devastating impact of these dangerous substances.


Bardwell, G., Kerr, T., & Tupper, K. W. (2021). The Bronze Age of drug checking: barriers and facilitators to implementing advanced drug checking amidst police violence and COVID-19. Harm Reduction Journal. Retrieved from https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-021-00503-z.

Public Health Ontario. (2022). Evidence Brief: Novel non-fentanyl synthetic opioids: risk assessment and implications for practice. Public Health Ontario. Retrieved from https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/e/2021/evidence-brief-novel-opioids-risk-analysis-implications.pdf?sc_lang=en.

Tobias, S., McLeod, K. E., & Buxton, J. A. (2022). Invited Commentary: Drug Checking for Novel Insights Into the Unregulated Drug Supply. American Journal of Epidemiology. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/190/9/1684/6253466.

Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. (2022). Drug checking: a potential solution to the opioid overdose epidemic? Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. Retrieved from https://substanceabusepolicy.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13011-022-00415-1.

Cureus. (2023). Old Drugs and New Challenges: A Narrative Review of Nitazenes. Retrieved from https://www.cureus.com/articles/40736-old-drugs-and-new-challenges-a-narrative-review-of-nitazenes.

The Pharmaceutical Journal. (2024). Everything you need to know about nitazenes. Retrieved from https://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/news/everything-you-need-to-know-about-nitazenes.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Notes from the Field: Nitazene-Related Deaths — Tennessee, 2019–2021. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7115a3.htm.

Wright, T. E., et al. (2022). The potential impacts of community drug checking within the overdose crisis: qualitative study exploring the perspective of prospective service users. BMC Public Health. Retrieved from https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-022-12345-0.

Health Research Ethics Board at the Island Health Authority. (2018). Contextual factors affecting the implementation of drug checking for harm reduction: a scoping literature review from a North American perspective. Harm Reduction Journal. Retrieved from https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-018-0231-6.

Oxford Academic. (2022). Drug Checking as Strategy for Harm Reduction in North America. Journal of Public Health. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/45/2/e215/6779883.