Fentanyl test strips remain illegal despite objections in drug bill debate

Fentanyl is the leading culprit of the ongoing opioid crisis.

The House voted against the decriminalization of fentanyl test strips in Florida on Friday, angering some lawmakers in the closing hours of the 2022 Legislative Session. 

The push to decriminalize came as part of a ping-pong negotiation over a sweeping controlled substance bill. It came after six spring breakers overdosed Thursday night on fentanyl-laced cocaine at a South Florida rental home.

Originally a pain management treatment for cancer patients, fentanyl is the leading culprit of the ongoing opioid crisis. The drug, primarily manufactured in Mexico, is nearly 100 times more potent than morphine.

Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned urged House colleagues to decriminalize the strips, alongside other Democratic lawmakers on the House floor.

“This is a product that doesn’t cause harm in any way,” said Learned, who proposed an amendment to decriminalize the strips. “The only thing it does is reduces harm. The only thing it does is save Floridians by simply telling people whether or not fentanyl exists.”

A similar fight continued hours later in the Senate, with several Democratic lawmakers openly frustrated about the issue.

Miami Beach Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo noted the overdose — a national news story — on the Senate floor during debate. 

He urged Senators to stand their ground in future negotiations. More people die of overdoses, he noted, than gun violence.

“If you still have relationships over there, please speak up going forward,” Pizzo told colleagues, noting the decriminalization provision enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate.

Sponsored by Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon, the bill (HB 95) originally called for a slew of drug law changes, including provisions lowering prosecutorial standards and modifying drug-free zones.

The bill, though, now is a shell of its former self. The House further removed language modifying drug-free zones around houses of worship, which applies 24/7 under current law. 

The Senate version of the bill tweaked the law, making it only applicable during religious services. Broward County Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer and other Senators consider the zones ineffective and harmful toward minorities.

“This is a you-know-what sandwich,” said Farmer, who voted against the bill. They took the good thing out. … You took out a valuable tool that’s going to help people not die and you kept some other bad stuff in there.”

Despite reservations, the Senate passed the proposal along a 33-5 vote. St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes broke party ranks, voting against the bill. It now awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature. 

The companion bill sponsor, Sanford Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur, highlighted the bill’s remaining provisions in his closing. 

Among other items, it adds methamphetamine to Florida’s list of prosecutable controlled substances. In 2020, officials recorded 1,273 methamphetamine overdose deaths in Florida.

The bill will take effect Oct. 1 if signed into law. 

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.

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