New bill could legalize fentanyl test strips in Alabama

Fentanyl test strips are handed out to people anonymously, in hopes they'll test the drugs...
Fentanyl test strips are handed out to people anonymously, in hopes they'll test the drugs they're about to take for the presence of potentially deadly fentanyl.(WBAY)
Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 7:16 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - An unusual piece of legislation designed to protect illicit drug users is making its way through the Alabama Legislature. The bill would legalize fentanyl drug test strips that let a user know if his or her drugs are laced with fentanyl, a dangerous substance that’s causing an increasing number of deaths.

The punishments for using or selling illicit drugs won’t be changed, but by giving users access to this strip, 81% of them will routinely test their drugs, potentially changing the habits of drugs users to possibly not using anymore at all.

“There’s a lot of lives to be saved by decriminalizing fentanyl test strips,” said Vanessa Tate-Finney, director of policy and advocacy for AIDS Alabama.

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, with a lethal dose being as small as two milligrams. and taking up to three minutes for a fatal overdose to occur.

“They don’t realize that fentanyl is in their drug supply,” said Tate-Finney. “And you may think that you don’t know anyone that is using illicit drugs, but chances are you probably do.”

“There are so many adulterants in the drug supply that are absolutely deadly,” said Morgan Farrington, a harm reductionist.

Farrington works daily with people who use drugs on their road to recovery.

“It’s not an A to B journey. There’s a really winding path from A to B,” said Farrington. “And we’ve got to be supportive of people no matter how they get there.”

Fentanyl test strips aren’t intended to stop people from using illicit drugs, but Farrington says tests could help people decrease their use or avoid potentially deadly situations.

“It’s possible that people are never intending to use an opioid in the first place, and that the substance that they’re using could be adulterated, and they might be able to choose not to do it at all,” said Farrington.

Opponents to this bill say access to the strips could make illicit drug use easier.

“I think people see fentanyl test strips as enabling,” said Farrington. “First of all, no. You’re enabling life, you’re enabling people to live, you’re enabling people to take better care of themselves.”

Farrington also compared the tests to Naloxone, an overdose-stopping drug, available at any pharmacy without a prescription. And says if this is available so should the strips, because for them at the end of the day helping people who suffer from substance abuse is the goal.

The last step for the Senate version of this bill would be a vote on the House floor.

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