Community Issues

PA Official: Fentanyl Test Strips Could Save Lives

He says all states should legalize them. He's challenging lawmakers to make that happen in PA. You can weigh in too.

A group of men decided to party with what they thought was cocaine after going to a concert at a bar in Pittsburgh. Moments later three were dead, three others barely alive. Turns out the cocaine was laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin.

The deaths were a wake-up call because Pittsburgh, like the rest of the country, has seen an epidemic of overdoses from fentanyl-laced heroin. But the idea that more mainstream drugs can have deadly fentanyl in them was new to many. Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says overdose deaths -- no matter the drug -- could be prevented with the use of something called fentanyl test strips.

Fentanyl strips are the best preventative measure available so far to reduce overdose deaths says DePasquale.

Fentanyl test strips were originally intended for urine drug tests, but people are using them off-label to detect the presence of fentanyl in an illegal drug ( click here for more info ). If a drug tests positive for fentanyl, users could decide to avoid it or use less.

Right now the test strips are considered illegal drug paraphernalia in all but two states and the District of Columbia, including Pennsylvania. DePasquale says that needs to change immediately:

"Fentanyl, which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin, is often present in street drugs such as heroin and cocaine, but users don't realize it," DePasquale said in releasing a comprehensive report on fentanyl's human and financial cost, A Deadly Dose: Fentanyl's Impact in Pennsylvania . "Beyond the tragic cost in lives lost to overdoses, the fentanyl epidemic is driving billions of dollars in costs to Pennsylvania taxpayers and our economy."

"The General Assembly should act to make test strips legal and widely available because they can help to save lives."

If you'd like to make your voice heard on this subject in your state, one way to do it is to contact your state lawmakers. Click here for a link to a website where you can find out who they are, and how to reach them.

(Images & video: Commonwealth Media Services, featured image Prevent Overdose RI website )

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