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'It can save lives': Coalition commends decriminalization of fentanyl test strips

fentanyl strip
Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-05 18:13:27-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Once considered illegal drug paraphernalia in Kentucky, fentanyl testing strips are making a lifesaving comeback after the passing of HB 353.

The bill passed unanimously on the final day of Kentucky’s legislative session.

Along with promoting awareness and education on the dangers of fentanyl, the bill decriminalizes fentanyl testing strips which were previously considered drug paraphernalia.

“We think this is a good first step in helping to end the epidemic in this state,” said Kungu Njuguna, policy strategist at the ACLU of Kentucky.

Merely the size of a playing card, the test can detect fentanyl in all kinds of drugs.

According to Njuguna, “It’s very simple to use, very basic, and it can save lives.”

When advocates call the test strips lifesaving, they have the stats to back it up.

In 2002, fentanyl contributed to 70% of Kentucky’s 2,250 overdose deaths, according to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

“Kentucky, as we all know, is in an opioid epidemic crisis, and we also know fentanyl has gotten into the drug supply,” said Njuguna.

Bill 353 takes a swing at the state’s opioid epidemic. A coalition backing the bill says the test strips empower the people who use them, giving them agency and at times, a second chance at life.

“Ultimately, that's what all these harm reduction efforts are aimed at, keeping people healthy and alive long enough so that meaningful change can occur in their world, and we can get them reintegrated back into society, happy and healthy,” said Dallas Hurley, senior project director with Volunteers of America recovery programming.

Since the bill’s proposal, Hurley and his team have been major proponents of the test strips.

“The use is going to occur whether we like it or not. We have to acknowledge the situation right now and the human nature of it,” said Hurley.

“It isn’t that we’re advocating use of substances, but if someone were going to use, we want to make sure we’ve provided the means for them to use safely,” echoed David Brumett.

Now the program director at Voices of Hope, Brumett wishes he’d had access to fentanyl testing strips when he needed them most.

“As someone in long-term recovery myself, I wish I'd had access more readily available back in the days when I was in active use because it would've helped me make wiser choices back then,” said Brumett. “So, for me, it is having the hope of being able to extend that to someone.”

Voices of Hope has already begun distributing the test strips. They invite people to pick them up from their office at 644 N Broadway in Lexington.