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New Kentucky law decriminalizes fentanyl test strips

An array of white pills, laid out on a flat surface, are shown.
Thought Catalog
Fentanyl test strips can detect the presence of the deadly opioid in counterfeit pills, cocaine and other drugs. State lawmakers just passed a law that mostly legalizes them, which will expand Kentuckians' access to this life-saving tool.

Fentanyl test strips have technically been illegal under state law, but House Bill 353 changes that. As a result, more community organizations are expected to start distributing them.

State lawmakers unanimously passed a law to decriminalize fentanyl test strips on the final day of their annual lawmaking session – a move that will expand Kentuckians’ access to this life-saving tool.

These paper test strips can detect if a small batch of drugs includes the deadly opioid. Research shows the tests are reliably accurate, although a negative result doesn’t totally guarantee the drugs are fentanyl-free.

Amanda Hall works for the national organization Dream.Org. She lives in Louisa, Kentucky, and was part of a broad, bipartisan coalition that advocated for House Bill 353.

Fentanyl is often mixed into other drugs like cocaine and counterfeit pills before they’re sold.

Hall said these test strips can give people information they need to protect themselves. If they test a drug they plan to take and detect fentanyl, they might take less of it or ditch that batch altogether.

“This just gives folks a tool to really know what drugs they’re using,” she said. “Studies show that things like testing strips can help moderate use. And that’s a big deal.”

In 2021, fentanyl was involved in more than 70% of Kentucky’s 2,250 overdose deaths.

“Some of those folks were my personal friends who I miss dearly,” said Hall, who is in long-term recovery from addiction. “So now I just hope that we can keep more Kentuckians alive.”

Because fentanyl test strips have been classified as illegal drug paraphernalia under Kentucky law, people who possess them potentially could be charged with a misdemeanor. And various community organizations decided not to distribute them due to their illegality.

House Bill 353 exempts the test strips from being considered drug paraphernalia unless they were used as part of an illegal fentanyl manufacturing or sales operation.

The legislature passed HB 353, which Republican Rep. Kimberly Moser of Taylor Mill sponsored, on Thursday.

CEO Jennifer Hancock of Volunteers of America Mid-States emphasized how expanding people’s access to this tool will prevent overdoses from happening.

“It may afford another day where we can get an individual into recovery,” she said in a statement after the legislature passed the law.

Morgan is LPM's health & environment reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.

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