The Complicated Legal Status of Fentanyl Test Strips

By Published On: June 21st, 2023Categories: Drug Addiction, Opioids, Overdose, Prevention

Fentanyl has quickly become the most dangerous substance on the streets. For people between the ages of 18 and 45, fentanyl overdose is now the leading cause of death.

Opioid misuse is inherently unsafe, but fentanyl is especially dangerous. A minuscule dose of fentanyl can cause an overdose, making it difficult for users to administer a “safe” dose.

On its own, fentanyl appears as a white powder, but it is also often mixed into other drugs like heroin or pressed into pill form and sold as opioids like oxycodone. Because of these subversive practices, it is very common for people to ingest fentanyl unknowingly, which increasingly results in fatalities.

How Fentanyl Test Strips Save Lives

One powerful tool for preventing accidental fentanyl overdoses is the distribution of fentanyl test strips. These strips work by using antibodies to detect the presence of fentanyl or its analogs in a sample and can be used to test any water-soluble substance, such as heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and other substances. The substance can be placed inside a bottlecap, spoon, or small bag. Water is then added, and the test strip is inserted into the solution. The strip will then reveal whether the substance contains fentanyl by displaying a positive result with a colored line.

Armed with these strips, people using substances can avoid ingesting anything that’s been tainted with fentanyl, thus preventing accidental overdose. The strips give individuals the power to make more informed decisions about what goes into their bodies.

The distribution of fentanyl test strips is aligned with a treatment approach known as “harm reduction.” Rather than trying to prevent individuals from using substances at all, harm reduction aims to make substance use less dangerous. However, like some other harm reduction techniques, fentanyl test strips have a complicated legal status.

Legal Complications Surrounding Fentanyl Test Strips

A common question about fentanyl test strips is whether they are legal; one unfortunate barrier to the widespread distribution of fentanyl test strips is the fact that they are not legal in every state. Drug laws—many of which date back to the 1970s—classify fentanyl test strips as drug paraphernalia. This crucial distinction prevents organizations from being able to distribute them in some areas.

In 2018, Rhode Island was the first state to formally decriminalize fentanyl test strips. Massachusetts followed suit the same year. In the time since about 20 other states have also decriminalized fentanyl test strips. Some states are currently in the process of passing legislation to decriminalize the strips. But, as of June 2023, there are still 10 states where the strips remain illegal.

Reducing the Harm of Fentanyl

Continuing to advocate for the distribution of fentanyl test strips helps those using substances better understand the risks they are taking. Not everyone is ready to commit to recovery, but that doesn’t mean their experience should be needlessly dangerous. The hope is that fentanyl test strips can help keep some people alive long enough for them to become ready to make a change in their lives.

Where are fentanyl test strips made available? Spectrum Health Systems and New England Recovery Center offer fentanyl test strips to our patients as needed for their own safety. If you are in need of fentanyl test strips for yourself or a loved one, you can also find them online or by contacting your local Department of Public Health.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab. 

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