As the 2022 legislature draws to a close, Georgia lawmakers passed a bill to regulate raw milk.
The House version of the bill has been abruptly amended, although the new word has nothing to do with milk. The language calls for the legalization of the use of strips that test drugs for fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that fuels the wave of deadly overdoses across Georgia and the United States.
Atlanta Democrat Sen. Jane Jordan said the amendment was “a commonsense solution to save lives.”
On the last day of the General Assembly session, the amended milk bill was passed irresistibly. If the bill is not vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia will join a growing list of states not to criminalize the use of fentanyl testing strips as the drug menace spreads across the country.
The governors of New Mexico and Wisconsin signed bills this year to allow test strips in those states, and Tennessee and Alabama legislatures recently passed similar legislation. In Pennsylvania, although a state law prohibits examination strips, the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have ordered a ban on trials against their constituents. The state’s attorney general has said he will not charge people for having test strips. Health officials in the state of Alaska, alarmed by the death toll, have begun offering free test strips. A vending machine in Ohio offers naloxone as well as fentanyl-identifying devices, a drug to counteract the overdose.
But the Florida legislature this year blocked a bill that would criminalize test strips. Fentanyl test devices – banned under the drug paraphernalia law adopted decades ago – remain illegal in nearly half of the states, drug policy experts say.
Many public health and addiction experts, however, promote rapid testing devices as “harm reduction” strategies to help users prevent death from overdoses of illicit drugs associated with fentanyl.
“We hope that all states will understand the dangers of contamination so much and that fentanyl test strips will enable drug users to know if they have fentanyl,” said Dr. Nora Volko, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. National Institute of Health.
The street version of fentanyl, an approved painkiller that is being produced illegally, originally came from Mexico to the United States. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. It is usually found in what is sold as heroin – it often takes its place. It can also be mixed with counterfeit street pills sold as cocaine, methamphetamine and opioid drugs – substances that many buyers do not expect to contain fentanyl.
The proliferation of fentanyl has led to a staggering increase in drug overdose deaths. In the 12-month period ending November 2021, synthetic opioids – including fentanyl – were associated with two-thirds of U.S. drug overdose deaths. And three-quarters of cocaine overdose deaths last year were linked to fentanyl, Volc also said.
“Fentanyl is so strong that it can hold your breath in very small amounts,” he said.
The fentanyl epidemic has “exacerbated racial inequality,” Volko added. From 2019 to 2021, deaths from adolescents in fentanyl overdose have more than tripled – and increased fivefold among black adolescents, according to an analysis by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention data produced by Advocacy Group Families Against Fentanyl.
Last month, the Drug Enforcement Administration sent a letter to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to increase the nationwide spike in fentanyl-related mass-overdose events. “Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” said DEA Administrator Ann Milgram. “Already this year, there have been dozens of overdoses and deaths from countless mass-overdoses.”
Testing strips are cheap, costing about $ 1 A drug user can take a small amount of the substance, add water, and briefly immerse a strip in the solution. If a red stripe appears on the strip, fentanyl is present; Two stripes means none of those drugs are available.
One downside is that test strips do not measure the amount of fentanyl in the drug.
Nonetheless, the strips are effective in detecting “very small amounts of fentanyl,” says Brandon Marshall, an epidemiologist at Brown University, who is part of a team that has studied illegal drug users and devices in Rhode Island. Many participants who tried the strips, Marshall said, discarded the substance if fentanyl was present, if the drug was used with someone else, or if naloxone was available during use.
A similar study of intravenous drug users in North Carolina found that 3 out of 4 people indicated that fentanyl strips felt better to protect themselves from their overdose.
In South Carolina, which has provided fentanyl test strips, the state sends an anonymous survey to anyone who accepts them. Sarah Goldsby, director of the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, said survey responses indicate that those who use the strip use fewer drugs, some choose not to use the drug altogether, and feel safer in preventing overdose. .
Brownings Marshall added that testing strips are not going to be a silver bullet in the overdose crisis, but they can be an important tool in helping people stay safe.
In Georgia, where the test bill is awaiting governor’s approval, public health officials say the death toll from fentanyl-related overdoses has doubled since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic between May 1, 2020 and April 30, 2021. In 2019 and 2020.
And according to Dr. J. Goldstein, medical director of the emergency department at Memorial Health, fentanyl-related overdoses have recently increased in Savannah, Georgia. He said many overdose patients said they were surprised by the potency of the drug they were taking, but he feared giving them a strip would not stop their use.
“Sad to say, but some users want fentanyl in their medication because it gives them more intense heights, although the risk of crashing and burning is even worse,” he said.
John Woodruff, a senior attorney at the Legal Analysis and Public Policy Association, said current drug paraphernalia laws could discourage states or agencies from applying for grants to buy test strips or create programs to distribute them. But in many states that have not decriminalized the strips, those who have the paperwork are not being judged.
In Georgia, “people can be prosecuted, but usually not judged, especially if it is these testing strips,” said Pete Scandalakis, executive director of the Georgia Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, which supported the testing strip amendment.
Despite Georgia’s current ban, the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition says it distributes strips to individual drug users and members of other communities.
Meanwhile, Georgia families who have seen loved ones die from overdoses of fentanyl support making testing strips more readily available.
Doreen Barr of Fayette County, a suburb of Atlanta, lost a boy seven years ago to a combination of heroin and fentanyl. He has set up a non-profit foundation called Ryan Barr to educate people about addiction.
Barr said he believes test strips can save lives.
“Why no fentanyl strip?” He said. “Cocaine or a fake pill may contain fentanyl. It can kill you at some point. If they had a test strip, they probably wouldn’t accept it.”
KHN South Carolina correspondent Lauren Sasser contributed to this article.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that creates in-depth journalism about health issues. KHN is one of the three major operating programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), including policy analysis and polling. KFF is a non-profit organization that provides health information to the nation.
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