It’s a testament to the staying power of the Pepsi Challenge—first introduced in 1975—that random pedestrians aren’t freaked out by bubbly strangers asking them to eat unlabeled food. Instead, the offer evokes a giddiness at being selected for such an important task.
So the people chosen for a recent “Coke Challenge” were understandably intrigued, even excited at the prospect of learning a bit more about their own tastes. Instead, they got a brush with death.
The “coke” in this case was, of course, cocaine—one baggie filled with pure powder, and the other containing cocaine laced with enough fentanyl to kill anyone who snorted it. Cocaine is increasingly being cut with the synthetic opioid to increase its effects, but that is driving overdose deaths. In 2017, the CDC attributed more than 7,500 deaths to cocaine laced with fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.
Fentanyl tampering can’t be detected by sight, smell, or taste, so recreational drug users take a risk every time. They’re also in more danger than regular drug users, because they typically have no tolerance to opioids.
Like the real Pepsi Challenge, though, the head-to-head comparison was a marketing tactic, created by Toronto-based creative agency The Garden for DanceSafe, a U.S.-based non-profit sells fentanyl test strips they say can detect the presence of the drug. The organization's focus is on safety and education in the electronic dance community and is known for bringing adulterant screeners to raves that can check for unexpected tampering. DanceSafe is neither for or against drug use, so there's no judgment in the campaign, just a bit of humor, evident in the tagline, "Know before you blow."
“The war on drugs was lost,” says The Garden founder Shane Oglivie, so the campaign focuses on reducing potential harm to people who choose to use recreational drugs. The video of the challenge is timed for International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.