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Amid the nation’s fentanyl epidemic, more states are legalizing drug test strips, but not without controversy.
In more than half the country, fentanyl test strips are considered illegal drug paraphernalia. Test strip possession can lead a fine or jail time in many states, though enforcement varies.
Ohio lawmakers are now considering legislation to decriminalize fentanyl test strips.
On May 19, state Rep. Kristin Boggs testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee in support of House Bill 456, which she first introduced in October 2021.
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If the bill becomes law, Ohio would join a growing list of states decriminalizing the use of fentanyl testing strips as the drug continues to wreak havoc.
Governors in New Mexico and Wisconsin this year signed bills allowing test strips in those states, and legislatures in Tennessee and Alabama recently passed similar legislation.
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Many public health and addiction experts promote the rapid testing devices as a “harm reduction” tactic to help prevent overdose deaths from illicit drugs that users may not know are laced with fentanyl.
The testing strips are inexpensive, costing about $1. A drug user can take a small quantity of a substance, add water and dip a strip briefly into the solution. If one red stripe appears on the strip, fentanyl is present; two stripes mean none of that drug is found.
A downside is that the test strips don’t measure the amount of fentanyl in the drug.
Still, the strips are effective in detecting “very small amounts of fentanyl,” according to Brown University epidemiologist Brandon Marshall.
While there’s evidence fentanyl test strips could lead to safer drug behaviors, there are still barriers to access. Specifically, there is confusion about where the tests are legal.
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It’s clearly legal to possess fentanyl test strips in 22 states, according to a recent legal review published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. In 14 states where drug-checking equipment is not clearly legal, it is lawful when the equipment is obtained from a syringe services program, the review found.
In April 2021, the Biden administration lifted restrictions on use of federal grant funds for buying fentanyl test strips.
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