A widely shared online hoax, which originated in the US and spread to South Africa, claims that blue tape laced with fentanyl is being stuck on fuel covers in an attempt to drug or kill motorists. But experts told AFP Fact Check the drug cannot cause harm in the unlikely event that it’s absorbed through the skin. South African police also said they had never encountered such a case.
The Facebook post was published on October 23, 2021, from a South African account and includes a photo of a sedan with a piece of blue tape on the fuel tank cover.
“WARNING: If you find a tape like this on your car, do not take it off with your bare hands. The tape is laced with fentanyl and will kill you. December is here and people are doing crazy things (sic),” reads the post’s caption.
A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on November 8, 2021
Fentanyl is a pain medication up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Some dealers mix it with other drugs including heroin and cocaine to increase the potency without warning users, according to the World Health Organization.
But despite its strength, experts said the drug cannot cause harm or death in the unlikely event that it’s absorbed through the skin.
Claim is ‘fiction’
South African environmental toxicologist Walter Fourie told AFP Fact Check the Facebook claim was “obviously fiction” because “fentanyl is not readily absorbed through the skin”.
Australian toxicologist Ian Musgrave agreed, calling the claim “a widespread myth that refuses to die”.
“You cannot get a pharmacologically effective dose of fentanyl from simply touching it; neither is it possible to get a lethal dose from simply touching it,” said Musgrave, who is a senior lecturer at Australia’s University of Adelaide.
Meanwhile, the South African Police Service (SAPS) said it had never heard of any cases involving criminals targeting motorists using blue tape laced with fentanyl.
“I have never heard of such and I don’t recall any cases being opened with us,” said police spokesman Vish Naidoo.
Facebook family version
It revealed that the blue-tape claim was first published by California- based Facebook user Mark Alva on September 5, 2021. It has been shared more than 355,000 times since then.
A screenshot of Mark Alva’s Facebook post
But another Facebook user called Unique Alva pointed out in the comments section that a car wash had put the tape on the fuel cover so that it would not open while it was being cleaned. She posted a picture of her own car with a piece of blue tape on the fuel latch.
Her comments indicated that she was the niece of the man who published the picture.
“Uncle Marky its from the car wash lol. Stela just told me you guys got a car wash too at the same place it's not fentanyl they put this so your gas tank won't open up... I got my car wash this morning (sic),” read her comment.
A screenshot of comments by Mark Alva’s relative, taken on November 11, 2021
Unique Alva said the car wash using the blue tape was in Menifee, California and a chat screenshot included in her post suggests it’s located over the road from a business called Stater Bros. Market.
However, Mark Alva dismissed the suggestion by Unique Alva that he had been to the same car wash and continued to insist that the tape was laced with fentanyl.
AFP Fact Check has contacted Unique Alva and Mark Alva for comment and will update this debunk in case of a reply.
A screenshot of the car wash on Google Maps, taken on November 10, 2021
“Yes, we do use blue painters tape to tape down the more delicate parts of a car (such as the fuel tank door and wiper blades) to prevent damage to those parts within the automated machinery of the carwash itself,” the company told AFP Fact Check via Facebook Messenger.