On May 19, Ohio State Representative Kristin Boggs testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee in support of House Bill 456, which would remove fentanyl testing strips from the list of prohibited drug paraphernalia. Previously, state Senator Nathan Manning introduced Senate Bill 296 in February 2022, aiming to decriminalize “narcotic testing products” and expand access to naloxone. However, Bill 296 has not yet moved out of the Senate Health Committee.
“It’s really important we’re able to unlock that public funding for these, which cannot be funded currently because they’re considered drug paraphernalia,” said Sydney Sauer, director of operations for the Safety, Outreach, Autonomy, Respect (SOAR) Initiative, said in her interview with Filter Magazine.
According to Sauer, if the bill passes, funding for FTS would be available immediately through Ohio’s opioid response fund, which currently provides $96 million, and will be increased to $97 million in 2023. “Because Ohio restricts [FTS], we still can’t use our funding for that. So even when CDC or SAMHSA money comes to Ohio, those millions of dollars still can’t be used for this,” Sauer added.
Fentanyl testing strips are a harm reduction tool that allows the detection of the lethal drug in drug samples. However, the current legislation in Ohio classifies them as “drug paraphernalia,” with possession representing a fourth-degree misdemeanour and carrying penalties of up to 30 days in prison and a $250 fine.
The new bill aims to encourage the use of fentanyl test strips, while also allowing federal funding to be spent on their distribution in Ohio. «By decriminalizing these fentanyl testing strips, it’s creating one more tool, one more avenue that could potentially result in somebody avoiding an overdose that is unattended because they are unaware of what substances are in the drugs that they are using,” said Boggs.
Currently, Ohio is among the 10 states most affected by the opioid overdose crisis. In 2021, there were over 5,400 Ohio overdose-related deaths, which is the highest annual death toll in the state’s history, for the second year in a row.
In order to be fully approved, both legislative chambers and Governor Mike DeWine must sign off on Bill 456. According to the data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), demonstrates that out of the approximately 108,000 drug-related deaths across the United States in 2021, 71,200 deaths were overdoses involving fentanyl or its analogs. Since 2016, when fentanyl became the drug involved in the majority of overdose deaths, the numbers of fentanyl-related overdose deaths have been exponentially increasing.