RIPR: Bill Would Permit Testing Illegal Drugs For Deadly Fentanyl

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by LYNN ARDITI  MAY 10, 2018

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Legislation introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly could pave the way for distribution of a low-tech tool to prevent overdose deaths.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a Providence Democrat, would legalize the possession and distribution of test strips to detect fentanyl laced in heroin and other illicit drugs.

A cheap, synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. State health officials have linked fentanyl to nearly 65 overdose deaths in Rhode Island in 2017.

Supporters of legalizing fentanyl test strips testified before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday night to urge passage of the bill.

Michael Galipeau, of the Rhode Island User’s Union, an advocacy group, said the strips could also be valuable to police and emergency medical workers.

“It gives them an additional tool in their tool kit,’’ he said. “No longer are handcuffs the only necessary type of tool for engaging folks that are consuming illicit substances.

The Rhode Island Medical Society submitted a letter to the committee in support of the bill.

A study co-lead  by a Brown University epidemiologist found the test strips accurately detected fentanyl in street drug samples. The study recommends that health care workers use the strips to test for fentanyl, which is increasingly showing up in heroin and cocaine.

But being in the presence of illegal drugs in Rhode Island could lead to arrest. Regunberg’s bill would protect people from criminal prosecution or civil suits for using or distributing the test strips.

Manufactured by a Canadian company for testing urine, fentanyl test strips recently began being used to test illicit drug supplies by public health officials in Massachusetts, New York and California.

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