Graphic by Nina Hufman

Reagent testing should be accessible for students

Playing roulette with my sanity

by Dezmond Remington

The envelope was postmarked from a rural village in Poland, and within it was 500 milligrams of a powder that smelled weird and tasted worse. If my information was correct, that powder was the novel psychedelic 2C-B, and the 15 milligrams I had measured out on my high-powered scale would not lead to a screaming, agonizing psychosis. I did not have any way to verify this beyond the word of the faceless dark web vendor who sold it to me.

Life is short and I’m stupid. I wrapped that 15 milligrams of burning chemical powder in toilet paper and swallowed that toilet paper and had a fun time. It could have turned out very differently. If that powder was pure DOM and I had taken the same amount, I would have been tripping for damn near a whole day, an absolutely nightmarish 24 hours. If it was MDMA, I probably would have just been pretty bored, confused and angry at myself for wasting so much money on a drug that didn’t do anything. If it was raw crystal LSD I would be in a psych ward right now. 

I got lucky. Don’t swallow strange Polish powders based entirely on digital trust. What I should have done was use a test kit, something like the Marquis reagent test, which would have told me I did indeed have 2C-B. Or I even could have sent a sample off to a lab with a gas chromatography machine to tell me exactly what was in that funky substance. 

The only reason I didn’t? Access. Test kits can be hard to buy online, and are often of sketchy quality as well. Why isn’t there a place on campus where I can get them? This is a science-focused university, with a fresh injection of cash to the tune of over $450 million. These tests are not very expensive, and can save lives. It’s only a matter of time before a student here dies from an ecstacy pill stuffed full of meth, cathinones, or some other powerful stimulant with no history of human use before a year ago, manufactured in some underground lab overseas. It wouldn’t be a particularly hard program to implement. 

It’s strange to me that a university flush with money dead in the heart of an area long known for chemical experimentation hasn’t started something like this already. Not providing services like these sure as hell won’t stop dumbasses like myself from doing a little synthetic voyaging. People have been messing with their brain’s chemical composition since we were apes and found some fermented juice in an overripe fruit on the jungle floor. Nothing is going to stop the human race from trying all sorts of uppers and downers and color-makers, least of all a lack of test kits, which most people don’t even use anyways. Why not change that? Why not make it easy? Why not save every life possible? If even one responsible drug user took advantage and found deadly adulterants in their pills or powders, it’d be worth it. 

That’s not to say there aren’t any resources in Humboldt county. There is the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction, which has supervised injection rooms and syringe exchange programs, as well as fentanyl strips and Narcan. They have offices in Arcata and Eureka. However, they don’t offer reagent testing. There is also the Peer Health Education Center on campus, which also offers fentanyl strips. However, these will only tell you if there is fentanyl in your drugs, which is unlikely if your drug of choice is a psychedelic or a stimulant. These resources are definitely helpful for those who use depressants, but if someone wants to see if their MDMA has meth in it, they’re out of luck. What campus needs is reagent testing, which will give users more precise results as to what exactly is in their pills and powders. 

I’m sure I can guess a few of the whitebread responses those in charge around here have to my suggestion. 

‘Bu- but that would mean we’re encouraging drug use!’ No, it doesn’t. Does having a frozen yogurt machine at the J mean you’re endorsing eating like shit? I don’t think so. The name of the game is prevention. Just having a place or a program here on campus where students can make sure the substances they’re consuming are exactly what they think they are is simply a way to keep people healthy, physically and mentally. That should be a university’s top priority. Nothing is going to stop people from trying drugs. Might as well be realistic about it and try to keep people alive.

‘But you said most people don’t test their drugs anyways! Why would they start now?!’ Most drug users don’t test because they don’t know they should! A little education goes a long way. Reagent testing isn’t hard. At the bare minimum, some literature about how to properly use and handle the tests could really help. I’m absolutely certain people would love to know how much of that cocaine they’re snorting is caffeine powder or baby laxative. 

People should know exactly what they’re putting in their bodies. Plenty of drugs out there are mislabelled or full of other, unadvertised chemicals. They can be glorious and life-changing. They could also traumatize you forever, or kill you. The guessing game won’t hold out. Test kits can save lives, and they should be plenty easy to get.

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