Sorry, Young Thug: You Can’t Tell if Pills Are Fake With a Phone Flashlight

There are more surefire ways to test your drugs.
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
Young Thug performs at Bumbershoot at Seattle Center on September 1, 2018 in Seattle, Washington.
Photo by Suzi Pratt via Getty Images

There’s a lot of buzz going around right now about laced drugs and the risk of overdose that comes with getting high off of a potentially unknown substance. There are a few verified ways to determine whether what you bought is what you thought—including fentanyl test strips and similar kits—when you’re purchasing recreational drugs in powdered form. (It’s also worth noting that these tests aren’t completely foolproof and could fail to detect certain synthetic opioids.) 


Drugs that come in pill form, however, are a different beast. So how can you verify whether your pills are authentic? Rapper Young Thug claimed in an Instagram story earlier this week that it’s possible to tell real pills from fake or adulterated ones by backlighting them with a smartphone’s flash. His story later went viral when it was reposted to TikTok. "Stop doing drugs, especially pills, because they be fake," the rapper said. "But if you do do them, this is a real effect. If it glows when you put it under a light, it's real. If it don't glow, it's not a real pill. Put it on the light, and if it glows through—like you see the branding through the pill, it’s a real pill. If you don’t see the branding, if it’s thick and it’s not see-through, it’s not a real pill."

Experts contacted by VICE said, however, that they’ve never heard of this method of authenticating prescription pills and would not recommend others try it at home. 

“I sure would not suggest people do this,” Alex Kral, an epidemiologist at the nonprofit research institute RTI International, told VICE via email. “We need more drug checking availability in the U.S. Mass spectrometry machines should be installed in many places. There are also fentanyl test strips (there are for other drugs too, but less availability), which can tell you if there is fentanyl in the pill.”

Patil Armenian, an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine and co-director of medical toxicology at UCSF Fresno, told VICE in May that it’s a good idea to steer clear of street-bought opioids or benzos in particular, because there’s no easy way to test for fentanyl in pills. (Fentanyl test strips rely on mixing powdered drugs in water that the strips can then be dipped into.)  When presented with the method above, Armenian said: “That’s not a valid way to see if a prescription medication is real. I don’t know of any places where people could go get pills tested, unfortunately.”

Harm reduction is great, as is seeing Young Thug use his platform to openly speak about the risks that come with drug use. But if you don’t have the ability to use a verified test to ensure that your street-bought substances are safe to consume, your phone flashlight isn’t going to help you tell the difference.

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