‘It will absolutely save lives’: Legislature approves bill decriminalizing fentanyl test strips
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 2/7/23-Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, D-Parkland, during the House Appropriations Committee, Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Fentanyl leads all other illicit drugs in Florida in contributing to fatal overdoses.

Bipartisan legislation that would give Floridians a legal way to know if a substance they are about to ingest contains any traces of fentanyl is now cleared to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

House members voted 116-0 for SB 164, which would remove fentanyl test strips from Florida’s list of banned drug paraphernalia.

That simple change will help protect countless Floridians from potentially deadly exposure to the dangerous, incredibly potent synthetic opioid, said Parkland Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, who co-introduced a House version of the bill with Fort Pierce Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy.

“Fentanyl test strips don’t make people do drugs,” she said. “They don’t stop people from doing drugs. They stop people from dying, and that’s the goal.”

More than 6,150 people in Florida died in 2020 from overdoses involving fentanyl, according to the Department of Health, which says the drug’s strength is roughly 50 to 100 times that of morphine. While that number fell by 52% in 2021, the most recent year for which there are readily available figures, it still led all other illegal drugs in the state in contributing to fatal overdoses.

For some, there’s a misconception that fentanyl is a danger only to habitual illicit drug users, but that’s far from the truth, Trabulsy said.

“It could be your mom. It could be your dad. It could be your brother, your sister. It could be your children who are in college that are saying, ‘Man, I can’t stay up to study tonight,’ (and) take an Adderall,” she said. You don’t know where those drugs come from, and the best thing we can do is equip people with the tools to be able to save their lives, because I can tell you the last thing anybody wants to do is take their life by taking drugs.”

Fentanyl test strips, which cost about $1 per strip and are 96-100% accurate, could trim those numbers significantly. The White House endorsed them in 2021 and now allows them to be purchased using federal grants. But they’re illegal in many states, including Florida, thanks to bans on paraphernalia to which fentanyl test strips were added.

“The idea was that we didn’t want to encourage people to take fentanyl. Well, no one wants to take fentanyl. Everybody knows it’s deadly,” Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Inverness said. “This is a good bill. Hopefully, it’ll stop a lot of the deaths. But we do need a lot stronger borders to stop (it) from getting here to begin with.”

Lawmakers nationwide have tried to unban the test strips. Some succeeded in one form or another over the past couple of years, including those in Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Until Wednesday, no such efforts — including one last year by former Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned and Miami Gardens Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones — succeeded in Florida. But it came close.

“When we heard it last year on the House floor and people were opposed to it, it was kind of like a so-you-would-rather-let-people-die moment,” said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, who works as the CEO of the Palm Beach County Medical Society. “This is such an important bill, and it may seem like it’s just making sure people have access to this one little thing, but it’s huge, and it will absolutely save lives.”

According to Sen. Tina Polsky, a fellow Boca Raton Democrat and the sponsor of SB 164, the bill’s provisions amount to nothing more or less than providing an easy, accessible means to reduce harm that has been widely accepted by the medical community.

“In many cases, teens are dying from counterfeit prescription pills that contain fentanyl,” she said. “It’s past time that our state joins more than 35 states led by both Republicans and Democrats that have adopted similar laws.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Ron Kirkland

    May 5, 2023 at 9:50 am

    Oh Please help those with serious addictions not die from their increasing needs! Save the people with this bill.

Comments are closed.


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