WASHINGTON – A bipartisan effort is underway to help tackle the alarming surge in opioid overdoses by increasing access to fentanyl test strips. These strips detect whether fentanyl is in a substance. Fentanyl is responsible for an increasing number of deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 150 Americans die every day from synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Senators from both sides of the aisle, three Republicans and two Democrats, have come together to introduce the Fentanyl Safe Testing and Overdose Prevention Act. The bill seeks to clarify the federal drug paraphernalia statute, excluding fentanyl test strips from its classification. Most states have already legalized these strips, but this measure aims to make them legal nationwide.

“There is more than one way to decrease the number of people dying from fentanyl,” Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said in a press release. “This is one of them. Let’s use every tool that we have.”

The legislation doesn’t stop at fentanyl but extends to include test strips for xylazine, a powerful animal tranquilizer increasingly mixed with illegal substances by drug manufacturers. Earlier this year the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an urgent public safety alert warning of a sharp increase in the amount of fentanyl mixed with xylazine. 

Emily’s Hope has also reported on new CDC data showing that from January 2019 through June 2022, the percentage of deadly opioid overdoses in which xylazine was detected rose by 276%, from 2.9% to 10.9%.

In South Dakota, Emily’s Hope founder Angela Kennecke testified in favor of a state bill that made an exception to state drug paraphernalia laws, allowing for the use of these life-saving testing strips.

Emily’s Hope has partnered with The Link Community Triage Center to provide thousands of fentanyl testing strips to communities. 

“We know that we want to stop all illicit drug use, but we know that people will still use drugs, and we want them to test for fentanyl because we know most people don’t know that there is fentanyl in the drug that they take. We want them to utilize these strips to test their drugs until we can get them help,” Kennecke said.

Critics argue that fentanyl testing may encourage drug use, but proponents draw a parallel with Narcan, a widely accepted medicine that rapidly reverses opioid overdoses. The focus is on harm reduction and empowering individuals with the tools they need to protect themselves until they can access professional help.