By Sarah Ladd
Fentanyl test strips would no longer be considered drug paraphernalia in Kentucky under a bipartisan bill that the House Judiciary Committee approved Wednesday, on a 17-0 vote with three passes.
It says “Narcotic drug testing products utilized in determining whether a controlled substance contains a synthetic opioid or its analogues shall not be deemed drug paraphernalia under this section,” unless the prioduct “is utilized in conjunction with the importation, manufacture, or selling of fentanyl or a fentanyl analogue.” It also says any such product with “residual or trace amounts of a synthetic opioid or an analogue thereof shall not be prosecuted as possession of a controlled substance.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fentanyl test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl in pills and other drugs within minutes, and thus help prevent overdoses.
But treating them as drug paraphernalia has dissuaded public agencies and groups that work with drug users from purchasing and distributing them, for fear that doing so would land them in legal trouble, says Kentucky Smart on Crime, a coalition working for justice reforms that address inequities and improve public health. Possession of drug paraphernalia in Kentucky is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and $500 fine.
Drug dealers mix fentanyl with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, because it takes very little fentanyl to produce a high, making it a cheaper option, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The risk of overdose increases when people don’t realize they’re taking fentanyl.
“Test strips and a strong education campaign are evidenced-based practices that can help stem the tide of deaths by fentanyl,” Jennifer Hancock, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-states, said in support of the bill. “We can’t put people on the road to recovery if they’re dead.”
VOA noted that fentanyl played a role in 73% of the 2,250 overdose fatalities Kentucky recorded in 2021, the last year for which a total is available.The state has one of the nation’s worst rates of fatal overdoses.
Other steps people can take to lower overdose risk, according to the CDC, are:
- Keep Narcan handy.
- Do not mix drugs.
- Don’t take drugs alone.
- Find a treatment center near you at https://findtreatment.gov or call 800-662-4357.