Supporters push for legalizing fentanyl test strips
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – As Kansas sees a spike in fentanyl overdose deaths, one of the public health tools advocates are calling for is a thin strip of paper. Under Kansas law, fentanyl test strips are classified as paraphernalia of drug use, but groups working on substance use prevention and treatment are trying to change that.
An effort to decriminalize fentanyl test strips has worked its way through the Kansas legislature. Earlier this month, he stalled in the Kansas Senate after Republicans blocked the bill. Those who support the effort say there is an economic argument, a public health argument and a humanitarian argument that legalizing test strips will save lives.
“We just don’t want our citizens, our people, to die anymore,” Seth Dewey said with the Kansas Recovery Network.
Dewey and Ngoc Vuong, community mobilizer for Wichita Safe Streets, are among those working to decriminalize fentanyl test strips. A single test strip costs around $1.
“(It’s a) necessary first step if we want to see a substantial reduction in drug overdoses in our state, but especially if you want to change the culture,” Vuong said.
Dewey said research in states where fentanyl test strips are allowed suggest that of those who test, 50-60% change their use if they know fentanyl is in drugs.
Three hundred and eighty-eight Kansans died in six months, six months,” Dewey said. “Now imagine if 50-60% of those people would have had the opportunity, for a dollar, to change their drinking habits. We would still have over 150 of our fellow Kansas here with us, potentially.
Test strips detect the presence of fentanyl in medications with high accuracy. If they can change people’s drug use, strip advocates are not just pointing to lives, but also to finances.
“(In) 2017, the estimated economic burden of fatal overdoses was $550 billion, or half a trillion dollars,” Vuong said. “That number has probably skyrocketed since then.”
Eyewitness News spoke with Mirror, Inc., which provides treatment for addiction and mental health. The organization says fentanyl test strips can be an outreach tool for education and resources and ensure people stay alive until they are ready for treatment. Dewey and Vuong agree.
“Before, the old adage said that an individual must hit rock bottom. This is no longer applicable because people no longer have the chance to reach the bottom. They die first,” Dewey said.
They add that it is a way to reach people where they are and create an environment conducive to change.
“Send the message to our Kansans, especially those with substance use disorders, ‘hey, your life matters too. Your life is precious,’” Vuong said.
Last year, the CDC and the Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration changed their guidelines, allowing the use of federal funds to purchase fentanyl test strips. But since they are still criminalized in Kansas, the agencies cannot use these funds for this purpose.
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