We don't know, but I'll trust Dr. Carl Hart over this narrative being pushed.
I’m a neuropsychopharmacologist who researches drug addiction. My work has focused on the unjust and unscientific stigmas surrounding drug use and the criminalization of drugs around the globe. The defense’s attempt to paint Mr. Floyd as a crazed drug addict relies on retrograde myths about the impact of drugs on our bodies and minds.
While it’s true Mr. Floyd had small amounts of methamphetamine and THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in his blood — 19 and 2.9 nanograms per milliliter, respectively — those numbers strongly suggest he hadn’t used them in at least several hours, maybe a day.
Also, Mr. Floyd’s methamphetamine levels were far below those I have found, in my laboratory research on dozens of participants, necessary to induce significantly elevated cardiovascular activity: greater than 25 nanograms per milliliter. The amount of methamphetamine (and THC) found in Mr. Floyd’s blood was too low for it to have had any meaningful effect on him.
His blood also had 11 nanograms of fentanyl, America’s latest vilified drug. Fentanyl (or its analogs) that is laced with heroin or other drugs and sold illegally for recreational use can be very dangerous or deadly. But it’s important that we don’t fall prey to misinformed and dangerous myths about the drug. Media reports, government agencies, and law enforcement have repeatedly claimed that minuscule amounts of skin exposure to the drug can cause an overdose. This is incontrovertibly false. As fear around fentanyl grows, so too does criminalization: In Florida, for example, a fentanyl-related overdose death can result in a drug-induced homicide charge for traffickers, even if many are unaware that what they are selling has been cut with the drug.
You should know, too, that fentanyl is an FDA-approved opioid medication used in the treatment of severe pain. In the United States, the drug has been used for this purpose for more than 50 years. It even comes in a child-friendly, sweetened lollipop formulation. Fentanyl is a safe and effective medication when used as prescribed.
So, what does 11 nanograms of fentanyl tell us about Mr. Floyd’s mental and physical state moments before his death? Not much, because the same amount of fentanyl that produces pleasure in a tolerant user can result in an overdose in an infrequent user. That’s why, together with the toxicology report, we have to interpret Mr. Floyd’s behavior shortly before he was killed, which is a barometer of a person’s impairment.
We saw that he was emotionally appropriate and behaving rationally, considering the circumstances. Minutes before his encounter with police, he purchased an item from a deli and was about to leave when officers asked him to get out of his car. Together, these observations suggest he had developed some level of tolerance to fentanyl-related effects and show how unlikely it is that drugs played a role in his death. People on the verge of dying from an opioid overdose are inactive and look visibly drowsy. He was neither.