Are Folded, Fentanyl-Laced Dollar Bills a Safety Threat?

A warning issued by a sheriff's office in Tennessee prompted scary headlines in several other states.

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folded dollar bill laced with fentanyl
Image via Screenshot, Perry County Sheriff's Office Facebook page

Claim

Picking up folded dollar bills from the ground could be life threatening due to the presence of powder inside containing fentanyl and methamphetamine.

Rating

Fact Check

In early June 2022, a number or news outlets and social media users published posts and headlines warning that picking up folded dollar bills off the ground could be dangerous because people are using the folded bills to stash dangerous drugs, including fentanyl and methamphetamine.

“If You See A Folded $1 Bill On The Ground, Police Warn Do Not Pick It Up,” warned a headline posted online by WCKT, a radio station based in Lehigh Acres, Florida. “Sheriff Warns Against Picking Up Folded Money That Could ‘Kill Anyone,'” cautioned a headline published by the national news outlet Newsweek.

Similar headlines were published by outlets covering wide-ranging locales, including Alabama and Pennsylvania.

A similar warning posted on Facebook by the Sheriff’s Department of Giles County, Tennessee, included a photograph of a penny and a comparatively small amount of fentanyl powder, and the statement, “The amount of powder next to the penny (if fentanyl laced) is more than enough to kill anyone that it comes into contact with.”

We are rating this claim “Mixture” because it’s true that authorities in one locale cautioned about two incidents involving drug-laced, folded-up dollar bills found on the ground; however national news coverage of the incidents may give the impression that the threat is more widespread than it is.

Furthermore, some of the headlines contain sensational language about overdosing on fentanyl. Medical experts who, in 2021, weighed in on a viral video containing an alleged fentanyl overdose stated that it’s not possible to overdose on fentanyl by simply coming into casual contact with the drug. We will address all of this in more detail below.

All of the posts and stories about drug-laced, folded dollar bills can be traced to a Facebook post made on June 8, 2022, by the Perry County Sheriff’s Office, which is west of Nashville, Tennessee. There, Perry County Sheriff Nick Weems warned residents that in two incidents, folded dollar were bills found on the floor of “a local gas station” and those bills contained a powder substance that “was later tested and was positive for methamphetamine and fentanyl.”

In the Facebook post, Weems wrote in part:

This is very dangerous, folks! Please share and educate your children to not pick up the money. I personally plan to push for legislation for a bill that would intensify the punishment, if someone is caught using money as a carrying pouch for such poison.

It enrages me as a father and the Sheriff, that people can act so carelessly and have no regard for others well being, especially a child. I hope we find the ones responsible.

Although news of the suspect folded money spread far and wide, we have encountered no evidence, as of this writing, that the threat extends beyond the two incidents in Perry County, Tennessee.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid painkiller that is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, considerably stronger than both morphine and heroin.

The drug, although legitimately dangerous, has also been the subject of a sensational media narrative that frames it as being more lethal than it actually is.

In one viral incident, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department in August 2021 released body camera footage allegedly showing a deputy overdosing by simply coming into contact with fentanyl. After the video was widely reported on, medical experts weighed in to debunk it, stating that an overdose from simply coming into casual contact with the drug was not possible.

In analyzing the video, The New York Times quoted Dr. Ryan Marino, medical director of toxicology and addiction medicine at University Hospitals in Cleveland, who stated that the only way to overdose on the drug is by ingesting it, which most often means snorting or injecting it. “You cannot overdose from secondhand contact,” Marino stated.

But because fentanyl is a very powerful drug, when it is ingested it doesn’t take much to do a lot of harm.

In sum, authorities in Perry County, Tennessee cautioned local residents about two incidents in which powder containing two illicit drugs, fentanyl and methamphetamine, were found in folded dollar bills on the floor of an area gas station. That doesn’t mean there is a rash of drug-laced dollar bills sprinkled on floors throughout the nation. And although fentanyl is a dangerous substance to ingest, medical experts have noted that simply coming into contact with or being around the drug will not result in an overdose.

Sources:

“Fentanyl: Incapacitating Agent.” CDC. 8 July 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ershdb/emergencyresponsecard_29750022.html.

Yang, Allie. “Experts Question Viral Video of San Diego Deputy’s Fentanyl Encounter.” ABC News, 9 Aug. 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/US/experts-question-viral-video-san-diego-deputys-fentanyl/story?id=79367328.

Paz, Isabella Grullón. “Video of Officer’s Collapse After Handling Powder Draws Skepticism.” The New York Times, 7 Aug. 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/07/us/san-diego-police-overdose-fentanyl.html.

“Tennessee Sheriff Warns about Picking up Folded Dollar Bills.” WREG.Com, 10 June 2022, https://wreg.com/news/mid-south/tn-sheriffs-office-dont-pick-up-folded-dollar-bills/.