On July 10, 2022, Kentucky resident Renee Parsons was driving through Nashville, Tennessee, with her family on the way to a work conference in Dallas, Texas. There, she had a medical incident that landed her in the hospital.
She recounted her experience in a Facebook post that has gone viral, likely due to the fact that Parsons blamed the episode on coming into contact with fentanyl on a dollar bill she found on the floor, an incident that maps onto a viral panic over alleged fentanyl overdoses caused by dollar bills dropped on the ground that are laced with the substance.
Fentanyl is a powerful opiate, and the dangers of fentanyl overdose are real. That said, the manner in which the drug is ingested is important. Medical experts have debunked viral claims that simply coming into skin contact with or being in the vicinity of fentanyl can cause an overdose, and say that in order to overdose, one generally would have to snort or inject it.
We are labeling this claim "Unproven" because the dollar bill was disposed of without being tested, so we will never know if it was contaminated, as we will elaborate more on below. Furthermore, we found no evidence supporting the possibility that the medical episode experienced by Parsons was caused by a fentanyl overdose.
According to her post, Parsons and her family were driving through Nashville when they stopped at a McDonald's to use the bathroom.
"I see a dollar bill on the ground. Thinking absolutely nothing of it - I picked it up," she wrote. She put it in her pocket, washed her hands and then put the bill in her car.
Then I grabbed a wipe to wipe off my hands bc I remembered him telling me not to pick up money off the ground as people have been putting it in fentanyl. As he began to somewhat lecture me It hit me like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden I felt it start in my shoulders and the feeling was quickly going down my body and it would not stop.
She then went numb, and her husband rushed her to a nearby hospital, where she was treated and fortunately recovered from the episode.
As of this writing, the Facebook post has been shared hundreds of thousands of times. Parsons' husband Justin told Snopes in a text message that doctors told them they don't test for synthetic opioids. The dollar bill itself was disposed of without being tested, therefore whether or not it was contaminated will never be known.
Was the Medical Episode Caused by Fentanyl Exposure?
The immediate facts available about this case indicate that fentanyl overdose was not the cause of Parsons' Nashville hospital visit.
We reached out to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. Public Affairs Officer Kris Mumford told us an MNPD officer responded to the hospital where Parsons was recovering at about 5:15 p.m. on July 10, where Parsons reported passing out after picking up the dollar bill in an area McDonald's restaurant bathroom. Her husband also complained of a rash, Mumford said.
According to the police department, the officer asked Parsons if she had received a clinical drug called Narcan, a lifesaving medication given to counter the effects of narcotic overdose. Parsons told the officer she didn't receive Narcan.
The officer inspected the dollar bill and didn't see any residue on it that would indicate the presence of a drug. Mumford said the dollar bill was disposed of without being tested, because there was no evidence that a crime had been committed.
"It was the officer's opinion that this would not have been have been a fentanyl overdose," Mumford said in a phone interview with Snopes.
Is It Possible To Overdose on Fentanyl from Touching a Dollar Bill?
As we have previously reported, medical professionals have countered viral scarelore about laced dollar bills and shopping cart handles by stating that it is extremely unlikely that anyone would be able overdose on fentanyl from coming into accidental skin contact with it.
"The risk of significant fentanyl exposure through skin contact is extremely low," said Dr. Todd Korthuis, professor of medicine with a focus on internal medicine and geriatrics at Oregon Health and Science University, in an email to Snopes. "It’s important to correct this widely circulated myth."
Korthuis pointed to a position paper published by the American College of Medical Toxicology and American Academy of Clinical Toxicology that states, in part, that, "Incidental dermal absorption is unlikely to cause opioid toxicity."
The idea that accidentally touching fentanyl can cause a life-threatening overdose has become something of a moral panic, and although it is unfounded, it was lent credibility when it was promoted by a handful of police departments.
In August 2021, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department released body camera footage that the department erroneously described as showing a deputy experiencing a near-death overdose caused by fentanyl exposure.
In June 2022, the Perry County Sheriff’s Office, located in a community west of Nashville, warned in a Facebook post about fentanyl-laced, folded dollar bills. That warning was echoed by the sheriff's department in Giles County, Tennessee, which added another element of sensationalism.
The Giles County post contained a photograph of a penny for size comparison, along with a small amount of white powder, and the inaccurate warning, "The amount of powder next to the penny (if fentanyl laced) is more than enough to kill anyone that it comes into contact with."
In 2017, a similar claim rocketed around the internet, in that instance claiming that Walmart shopping cart handles were being laced with fentanyl, resulting in a deadly overdose hazard. As we previously reported, that claim had originated with a police department in Arkansas, which later removed its misleading Facebook post and apologized for spreading the rumor.