The Fight to Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips

March 22, 2022 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges

This week alone, fentanyl has been linked to at least 10 fatal drug overdoses in South Florida. Fentanyl is a synthetic drug said to be up to 50 times more potent than heroin and has been recently referred to as Florida’s deadliest opioid. Often, the dangers of fentanyl come about through its covert nature – many of those suffering overdoses thought they were using one drug, like cocaine, and find out their supply has been laced with another, like fentanyl. Fentanyl was originally created to be a painkiller and can still be seen in use in Florida’s hospitals, but the past decade has revealed that the majority of fentanyl that is causing overdoses and addictions is a different type – one that is created secretly in labs outside of the United States. To read more about Florida’s problem with fentanyl-laced marijuana, visit our blog post here.

How We Can Help

The Palm Beach County State Attorney is starting the fight to legalize fentanyl testing strips. This came as a direct result of the overdoses over the past week or so, specifically the tragic case of West Point cadets suffering overdoses due to cocaine laced with fentanyl. Palm Beach County State Attorney, Dave Aaronberg, claims that test strips could have saved their lives, since they have yet to be legalized in Florida, many users do not make use of them since they are legally considered drug paraphernalia. Another statistic driving Aaronberg is the fact that 95% of drug overdoses in his county involve fentanyl. Micah Robbins of the PBC Behavioral Health Coalition shared that the fentanyl crisis is “one of the most pervasive health issues in the county, and anything we can do to support anyone in need, we want to get them help.”

What Are Fentanyl Test Strips?

Fentanyl test strips are incredibly helpful as they can detect the presence of the deadly and powerful substance in other drugs. This means those using other drugs, like cocaine, can see if their supply is covertly laced with fentanyl. Big-name organizations like the CDC have already supported the use of the test strips to cut down on overdoses and save lives. For example. The CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced in April of last year that federal funding is available to purchase rapid fentanyl test strips (FTS) in order to help with the dramatic spike in fatal overdoses caused by fentanyl.  The Acting Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, Tom Coderre, stated that test strips “will save lives by providing tools to identify the growing presence of fentanyl in the nation’s illicit drug supply and – partnered with referrals to treatment – complement SAMHSA’s daily work to direct help to more Americans.”

What’s Next

Hopefully, strides are made in this area to save lives, but unfortunately, two identical bills in the House and Senate supported by Aaronberg to legalize the tests failed to pass recently. While several states have already decriminalized the use of the test strips, Florida has yet to join the party.

Myths about Fentanyl

  • In order to overdose, fentanyl must be “introduced into the bloodstream or a mucus membrane in order for someone to feel the effects. While there are fentanyl patches that can be placed on the skin for pain management, this is not the formulation that’s cut into other substances. This was a big fear for law enforcement. They were worried and stressed about responding to overdose calls because they thought that just touching “a tiny grain of fentanyl” could cause you to “possibly die.” This misinformation can lead to devastating results, as law enforcement officers may be wary when responding to overdose calls, resulting in a gap or hesitancy in treatment for those suffering potentially fatal overdoses.
  • Illicit fentanyl is very different from medicinal and legal fentanyl. They are made very differently, with illegal fentanyl being made in secret off-nation labs and sold as heroin.
  • Many people think that dizziness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, and vomiting are symptoms of fentanyl exposure. But, according to experts, those symptoms are more analogous to panic disorders than “respiratory depression associated with opioid or synthetic opioid overdose.”
  • Another prevalent myth is that naloxone doesn’t work for fentanyl overdoses. This could be the most dangerous myth. Naloxone is a medicine that reverses an opioid overdose by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain and preventing the effects of the drugs. It works for any opioid including fentanyl.

 Written by Gabi D’Esposito

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