What to Know
One man is making it his mission to show illegal drug users how often party drugs are tainted with other substances
The so-called "Chemistry Cowboy" tested 11 different drug batches at a recent NY party; half contained an unexpected chemical
“This was quite a classy party in a 72-room mansion and there were still adulterated drugs everywhere,” he said
He calls himself the “Chemistry Cowboy.”
And he doesn’t attend parties for fun. He attends parties to show recreational drug users the alphabet soup of psychoactive chemicals often lacing their pills and powders.
“No matter how good your dealer says it is, he doesn’t know,” he said.
Last month, the I-Team shadowed the Chemistry Cowboy -- who does not want to share his real name because of the controversial nature of his business -- as he approached partygoers at an underground masquerade in New York's Westchester County. He tested 11 different batches of drugs – from ecstasy, to cocaine, to amphetamines. More than half of the drugs turned out to have been mixed with some sort of unexpected chemical.
“This was quite a classy party in a 72-room mansion and there were still adulterated drugs everywhere,” he said. “It was actually worse than I’ve seen in some warehouse type events.”
The Chemistry Cowboy founded a company called “Bunk Police,” which sells drug purity testing kits. The kits are billed as a self-help tool for recreational drug users who want to analyze their illegal drugs to make sure they are ingesting what they think they’re ingesting.
In one instance, I-Team hidden cameras were rolling when a cocaine user asked for a Bunk Police analysis.
“My friend, bad news. There is meth in your coke,” said the Chemistry Cowboy.
“How much?” replied the party goer.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was much coke in there at all,” he answered.
In another example, a Bunk Police testing kit revealed a partyer’s MDMA pill, sometimes referred to as “Molly,” had also been cut with crystal meth.
“I might rethink your decision to take this,” the Chemistry Cowboy warned.
At that point, the drug user admitted, he already had his suspicions.
“I’ve actually heard someone died off of it, so that’s why I didn’t take the full pill,” he said.
Despite their potential to warn drug users of potentially deadly chemicals buried in their powder and pills, drug purity testing kits are illegal drug paraphernalia in some states.
Stefanie Jones, director of audience development for the Drug Policy Alliance, says New York criminal law appears to permit possession of drug purity testing kits, but New Jersey and Connecticut have more restrictive rules banning any products used to analyze or test illegal drugs.
“For most state laws, actually, there is language that’s included that describes ‘testing or analyzing’ a substance that would place them as included in the drug paraphernalia law,” Jones said.
The Drug Policy Alliance, which pushes governments to employ more harm reduction strategies to prevent overdose deaths, is currently lobbying state lawmakers across the country to exclude drug purity testing kits from criminal laws.
“We’re working on finding ways to change the policy so it is more definitively legal for people to use and sell these kits,” Jones said. “We think they are a really important tool to keep people safe who might be choosing to use drugs.”
But while the kits may prevent recreational drug users from ingesting a dangerous synthetic chemical, some worry the kits could also provide a false sense of security when test results show drugs are pure.
John Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Center for Living, a drug treatment center that specializes in helping teens and young adults overcome addiction, said drug purity test kits may well serve a purpose at large parties, festivals, and concerts - but they could also warp people’s sense of risk.
“There are people out there that – for them – they’re going to have huge risk of having an addiction problem or substance abuse problem,” Lieberman said. “A drug purity test will not fix that. It will not overcome that.”
Dr. Marianne Chai, who serves as the Medical Director for the New York Center for Living, said another concern is that purity testing kits can appear to minimize the risk of overdose.
“A concern I have is that this might make people feel that they’re using things safely, and therefore they’re not thinking about their relationship with the substance,” Chai said.
The Chemistry Cowboy says Bunk Police tests aren’t intended to prevent addiction. But he does believe the tests can help keep determined drug users a little safer.
“You can use these tools to make better decisions. And if you’re doing this with your dealer when you’re purchasing it, then he will know that it’s adulterated.”