Georgia lawmakers took up a bill to regulate raw milk with time running out in the 2022 legislative session.
An amendment was abruptly tacked onto the House version of the bill, despite the fact that the new wording had nothing to do with dairy. The language proposed legalizing the use of strips that test drugs for fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that is fueling a wave of fatal overdoses in Georgia and across the United States.
Sen. Jen Jordan, an Atlanta Democrat who sponsored the amendment, called it “a commonsense solution to save lives.”
On the final day of the General Assembly session, the revised milk bill was overwhelmingly approved. If Republican Gov. Brian Kemp does not veto the bill, Georgia will join a growing list of states decriminalizing the use of fentanyl testing strips as the drug’s scourge spreads across the country.
This year, the governors of New Mexico and Wisconsin signed bills authorizing the use of test strips in those states, and the legislatures of Tennessee and Alabama recently passed similar legislation. Despite the fact that test strips are illegal under Pennsylvania law, the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have ordered a moratorium on prosecuting people who possess them. The state’s attorney general has stated that he will not charge people for possessing the test strips. Alaska state health officials, alarmed by an increase in overdose deaths, have begun handing out free test strips. In Ohio, a vending machine sells the fentanyl-detecting devices alongside naloxone, a medication used to reverse overdoses.
However, the Florida legislature rejected a bill this year that would decriminalize the testing strips. Fentanyl test devices, which were prohibited under drug paraphernalia laws enacted decades ago, are still illegal in roughly half of the states, according to drug policy experts.
Many public health and addiction experts, on the other hand, advocate for the rapid testing devices as a “harm reduction” strategy to help prevent overdose deaths from illicit drugs that users may not realize are laced with fentanyl.
Fentanyl, an approved painkiller that is illegally produced, is primarily imported into the United States from Mexico. Fentanyl has up to 100 times the potency of morphine. It is frequently found in heroin, often taking its place entirely. It can also be mixed into cocaine, methamphetamine, and counterfeit street pills sold as opioid medications, which many buyers do not expect to contain fentanyl.
The spread of fentanyl has contributed to an alarming increase in drug overdose deaths. In the 12-month period ending in November 2021, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were involved in roughly two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths in the United States. And, according to Volkow, fentanyl was involved in three-quarters of cocaine overdose deaths last year.
The fentanyl epidemic has also “exacerbated racial inequities,” according to Volkow. According to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data produced by the advocacy group Families Against Fentanyl, fentanyl overdose deaths more than tripled among teenagers between 2019 and 2021, and increased fivefold among Black teens.
The testing strips are cheap, costing around $1. A drug user can take a small amount of the substance, mix it with water, and briefly dip a strip into the solution. If only one red stripe appears on the strip, fentanyl is present; two stripes indicate that no fentanyl was found.
The state of South Carolina, which has made fentanyl test strips available, sends an anonymous survey to anyone who receives them. According to Sara Goldsby, director of the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, survey results show that people who use the strips use fewer drugs, with some choosing not to use drugs at all, and feel safer in preventing overdoses.
Brown’s Marshall added, “the testing strips, “are not going to be a panacea for dealing with the overdose crisis. However, they can be a valuable tool in assisting people to stay safe.”