HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Legislation that has been signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf will make it easier for Pennsylvanians to test substances for fentanyl. Previously, fentanyl test strips for personal use were classified as drug paraphernalia. Wolf signed House Bill 1393, now Act no. 111 of 2022, into law on Nov 3.
Wolf’s signature comes at a time where fentanyl seizures appear to be increasing in Pennsylvania. Last month, the PA State Police reported they’d seized more fentanyl in the third quarter of 2022 than they did in all four quarter of 2020. But as seizures increase, so do fatal drug overdoses.
Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith says about 5,300 Pennsylvanians are losing their lives to drug overdoses each year.
“That’s a lot of people. That’s too many people, and so there are lots of strategies that we have to employ to help combat that,” said Smith.
Specifically, harm-reduction strategies with the primary purpose of keeping Pennsylvanians alive, so that they can receive additional support services.
Smith says it’s important to expand access to tools like Naloxone, but that it’s equally important to expand the tool box with things like fentanyl test strips, especially with the growing poly-substance threat associated with the current overdose crisis.
“That’s so important because our drug supply today is very often not one substance. It will contain multiple substances,” said Smith.
Test strips indicate the presence of fentanyl in liquid and solid substances and can be lifesaving, especially for an unsuspecting user who’s never been exposed.
“These test strips will allow people to test what is there,” said State Representative Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana), the sponsor of HB 1393. “If something as simple as removing fentanyl test strips from the definition of drug paraphernalia can save a life, then I think we needed to do that. To me, it’s not just about saving lives, it’s about getting people into recovery, getting them back to a good quality of life, getting them back into the workforce, getting them back to providing for their families and being good members of society,” Struzzi added.
Struzzi’s legislation was also amended to include additional synthetic drugs that may come onto the market.
“It’s not just related to fentanyl, it’s related to any type of dangerous synthetic drug that could come onto the market,” said Struzzi.
“It’s not specific to simply legalizing fentanyl test strips, but instead allows for the legalization of any testing product. And why that’s so important is because our drug supply is ever evolving, and while fentanyl test strips are the things that we’re worried about getting into the hands of people today, six months, a year, five years from now, there could be some new substance that drug users need to have the ability to test for,” said Smith.
Combatting addiction and helping those struggling with substance use disorder hits close to home for Rep. Struzzi, who lost his brother to an overdose in 2014.
“These harm prevention measures, if they can give someone a chance to breathe another day- and that’s what I always say- I’d give anything to have another minute with my brother, but he’s not coming back,” said Struzzi. “I know that people need a second chance. You make one mistake and it cost you your life, and if we have a mechanism to prevent that, then we need to do everything we can to give people that second chance at breathing another day,” he added.