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Ohio lawmakers push to decriminalize fentanyl test strips

Cincinnati man sentenced for dealing heroin fentanyl mix
Posted at 9:25 PM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-30 21:25:53-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers have advanced a bill to decriminalize fentanyl test strips. The test strips can be used to test drugs to detect the presence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be laced in drugs without a user knowing.

House Bill 456 was passed in Ohio’s House of Representatives Wednesday.

Thousands of Ohioans die from drug overdoses each year. Fentanyl was involved in more than 80% of overdose deaths in Ohio in 2020.

“When I was growing up, people would say, 'First time you use drugs, you could die,'” said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, part of the Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition. “That probably wasn't true. It is 100% true now.”

Synan said test strips can help save lives. They’re not difficult to access locally, but are technically illegal and considered drug paraphernalia in Ohio.

“This is one of those cases where the practical end is ahead of the logistical end of trying to get legislation through,” Synan said. “We don't have a choice when you still have on average, 50 to 70 people overdosing every week (in Hamilton County).”

Ohio has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country, according to the latest CDC data from 2020.

“Decriminalizing tools that help people stay safe is, from my perspective, one step in the right direction from decreasing stigma,” said Suzanne Bachmeyer, Director of Prevention at nonprofit Caracole.

Caracole offers fentanyl test strips in a vending machine in Northside. It’s located in the parking lot of its facility on Hamilton Avenue.

Bachmeyer said demand for the test strips has been high.

“When we offer people tools that empower them and keep them safe, people take us up on that opportunity,” she said.

Test strips can also be accessed through Hamilton County Public Health here.

You can find other harm reduction resources here.

The bill would need to pass the state Senate and then be signed by the governor. Whether or not the bill becomes law, Bachmeyer said Caracole will continue distributing them.

No one has testified against the bill, but across the country, some opponents of test strips have argued that they enable drug users.

“We say, ‘Yes, we're enabling someone to stay alive,’” said Synan. “It is not my job as a first responder to just let people die.”

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