Pennsylvania becomes the newest state to decriminalize fentanyl test strips

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has signed into law legalizing the sale and distribution of test strips used to determine if fentanyl is present in an illegal drug.

Harm reduction advocates welcomed the measure, saying it had the potential to reduce overdoses.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that 78% of the 5,343 overdose deaths statewide in 2021 involved fentanyl.

“Because fentanyl is so widely available, particularly in the heroin supply, it’s difficult to actually find heroin anymore. But people still want to avoid it [fentanyl]said James Latronica, DO, a Pittsburgh-based addiction specialist Medscape Medical News.

However, the availability of the test strips is “probably more critical for people who use other drugs and do not have opioid tolerance,” such as B. Those who occasionally use cocaine, methamphetamine, alprazolam (Xanax) and MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly). , said Latronica, who is the public policy chair for the Pennsylvania Society of Addiction Medicine.

Pennsylvania joins about 30 other states — including in 2022 Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin — that have decriminalized or legalized fentanyl test strips, Latronica said.

“Drug Paraphernalia”

The immunoassays, which cost about $1 each and provide a simple positive or negative indication that fentanyl is in a powder, pill, or solution for injection, were considered illegal drug paraphernalia by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Most states had followed the DEA ban.

The Pennsylvania law signed by Wolf on Nov. 15 had bipartisan, unanimous support in the state legislature — an encouraging sign, said Tracy Pugh, MHS, state director of the Overdose Prevention Program at Vital Strategies, a global health organization.

“The unanimous support for fentanyl test strips in the Legislature is a welcome sign of growing momentum in support of harm reduction as a tool to combat the overdose epidemic,” Pugh said in a statement.

The Wolf administration has prioritized harm reduction, which may have contributed to a small 4% drop in overdose deaths in Pennsylvania for the fiscal year ended June, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year monthly reported. The report is based on preliminary data.

Latronica notes that while fentanyl is the most prevalent in the heroin supply, it is not the only dangerous substance added to opioids and other illicit drugs. These include xylazine and levamisole, both of which are veterinary drugs. Neither is easily detectable with rapid point-of-care assays.

Pennsylvania law intelligently legalized testing for any substance that might be found in the drug supply, Latronica said. This means that if test strips or other detection methods for other contaminants are developed, they will be freely available for harm reduction.

“Allowing this level of testing will result in much less morbidity and mortality,” he said.

Latronica does not report any relevant financial relationships.

Alicia Ault is a freelance journalist based in Saint Petersburg, Florida whose work has appeared in publications such as JAMA and Smithsonian.com. You can find her on Twitter at @aliciaault.

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