HARRISBURG, Pa. — A bill which drug treatment advocates say could significantly decrease the number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Pennsylvania cleared a State Senate committee Wednesday.
The legislation would legalize the use of fentanyl testing strips, which are currently not allowed in the commonwealth as they are considered drug paraphernalia. Sponsored by Democratic State Sen. Tim Kearney (D-Chester), it unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Fentanyl strips are used the same way as a COVID-19 at-home rapid test or a pregnancy test. Users grind up whichever drug they are taking, place a trace amount in a small dish and mix with an ounce of water. Once they dip the strip into the mixture, it takes a few minutes to tell if the drug is laced with fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic opioid which, in 2021, caused around 60% more of the more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The intent of this legislation is to keep people alive," Kearney said. "No one can recover from addiction if they're dead."
Gail Groves Scott, of Lancaster County, heads the Health Policy Network and has taken up interest in the fentanyl testing strip legislation. She is also a mother, who nearly lost her son to an overdose.
"It's a concern for somebody using a drug just one time," Scott said. "They don't have to have a substance use disorder. They could be experimenting and die."
Kearney's bill, as well as State Rep. Jim Struzzi's twin bill in the House, has languished in committee since last session. It is unclear when Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward will call Senate Bill 845 to the floor for a vote. The full Senate will not return to Harrisburg for session until March 28-30.
According to Kearney's office, 14 other states have passed similar legislation.