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Wave of Harrisburg drug overdoses highlights fentanyl test strip accessibility problem

Nine months after being legalized, access to fentanyl test strips remains an issue for people in need.

DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. — A wave of drug overdose deaths in Harrisburg this past weekend stemming from fentanyl-laced substances is putting the spotlight back on testing strips.

Fentanyl test strips became legal in Pennsylvania in January. However, nearly nine months later, access to these tests is an ongoing issue.

"It's really disheartening that this legislation was passed a year ago and folks do not have access to drug checking equipment," said Carla Sofronski, executive director of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Network. 

Harrisburg relies on Dauphin County's drug and alcohol program to distribute these tests. Currently, the county can purchase them using money from the opioid lawsuit settlements and distribute them through their provider network. 

However, they are in short supply. 

In a statement, a county spokesperson told FOX43 the following:

"Dauphin County Human Services has a limited supply of Fentanyl test strips that are being distributed through our provider network. We have been in contact with our supplier and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to obtain more strips."

Amid the limited supply, fentanyl test strips are freely available through non-profit organizations like NEXT Distro, which requires an application process.

Tests are not currently available for purchase at major retailers, Amazon has tests in stock at full price, which many people in need cannot afford.

Advocates say these are accessibility barriers that must be eliminated. 

"If people can't reach in their toolbox to grab a tool, clearly it's not going to work," said Sofronski. "The best public health approach is getting drug checking strips out there to people on the ground."

They add with improved accessibility, deaths can be prevented. 

"People who test their drugs are able to then modify their behavior," said Sofronski. "These deaths are preventable. We can prevent these deaths very easily if folks have the tools in their hands. We must get the tools out there."

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