As opioid overdoses rise in Kansas, senators block supply of fentanyl test strips

TOPEKA — An effort to allow Kansans access to a tool that tests the drug fentanyl is headed in the wrong direction after the Kansas Senate blocked a provision legalizing it.

Senators chose last week to send a bill allowing cannabis drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to a conference committee on a provision that would allow legal fentanyl test strips. The test strips are a response to a growing epidemic of opioid addiction, driven in large part by fentanyl, which is prevalent in Kansas and many other neighboring states.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid commonly associated with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA. When people don’t know if or how much of the potent drug they are taking, the risk of overdose increases.

Lawmakers ultimately removed this provision from the bill, despite a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers supporting it in the House, and senators passing it unopposed. Those who opposed the measure said it would help drug users more.

However, supporters of the bands lamented the exclusion of what they saw as a useful tool in dealing with the wave of overdose deaths.

“These tapes are a way to help save lives out there,” said Sen. Jeff Pittman, a Democrat from Leavenworth. “There is a rash of fentanyl in the community, unfortunately, and it looks like fentanyl strips are a way to help our citizens prevent unnecessary deaths and can be used purely for informational purposes.”

About half of all states, including Wisconsin, Tennessee and New Mexico in recent months, have approved bills legalizing these strips in response to their opioid use problems. According to the Sedgwick County Forensic Science Center, fentanyl overdose deaths exceeded all other drug-related overdose deaths in Kansas in 2021.

Earlier this year, Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials shared the interim result of a report on drug overdose deaths between Jan. 1 and June. 30, 2021. Of the 338 drug overdose deaths in Kansas, 149 were related to fentanyl or fentanyl analogues.

It also marked a 54% increase in overdose deaths over the same six-month period in 2020.

Test strips are currently labeled as drug paraphernalia in Kansas, meaning an individual can be charged with a felony for possessing them. Harm reduction advocates say these strips can guide individuals to treatment and make it safer if they use fentanyl.

But Senate Republicans argued that the strips would only help drug addicts.

“Fentanyl strips don’t save lives,” said Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg. ” Let’s be clear. There are individuals who want fentanyl in the drug they purchased or acquired.

Baumgardner added that these strips are different from other strips that determine exactly how much of a substance is present, but only detect if the drug is present.

All but three Republicans voted to send the bill to the conference committee.

At the GOP caucus meeting before the debate, Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, said allowing the strips to be used doesn’t help but “leaves” people with addictions.

“The best warning about whether your drug might contain fentanyl is, you know, don’t buy illegal drugs,” Warren said. “Where is the personal responsibility in this policy? »

Warren said the policy is a gateway to free, clean needle programs. Another concern she had was that the fentanyl test strip had not been heard by a Senate committee.

However, another bill passed by the House with the same provision was not heard or considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee for nearly a year. The measure was not followed by effect.

“‘This tool can be a lifesaver for the teen experiencing it for the first time, the individual with severe opioid use disorder, the concert goer looking for a trip, the person using a favorite substance obtained from the new source or individual years after recovery,” said Sen. Ethan Corson, D-Fairway, citing a study by Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. “I think it’s a opportunity to bring Kansas closer to a growing number of states for the chance to save lives.”

Visit PreventOverdoseKS.org for resources, epidemiological data, and information about Kansas’ efforts to prevent drug overdoses. Those who need help can call the SOUTHERN Kansas hotline at 866-645-8216 or visit FindTreatment.gov to locate treatment services.

Pharmacies offering naloxone, a drug capable of reversing an opioid overdose, can be found at ktracs.ks.gov/pharmacists/naloxone-dispensing. Under Kansas law, according to the KDHE, pharmacists can legally dispense naloxone to patients without a prescription.

The Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services provides grants to the DCCCA to operate a naloxone program. The DCCCA has a limited number of naloxone kits for people unable to access medication through a pharmacy.

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