‘We don’t have a choice,’ Ohio lawmakers advance bill to decriminalize fentanyl test strips

COLUMBUS — “When I was growing up, people would say, ‘First time you do drugs, you could die,’” Newtown Police Chief, Tom Synan, said. “That probably wasn’t true. It is 100% true now.”

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On Wednesday, Ohio lawmakers advanced House Bill 456 in Ohio’s House of Representatives, a bill to decriminalize fentanyl test strips, according to our news partners at WCPO.

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country, WCPO reported. Fentanyl was involved in more than 80% of the overdose deaths throughout Ohio in 2020.

The test strips are able to detect the presence of fentanyl laced in drugs without the user knowing, WCPO said. The strips are not hard to access locally, but are illegal and considered drug paraphernalia in Ohio.

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“Decriminalizing tools that help people stay safe is, from my perspective, one step in the right direction from decreasing stigma,” Director of Prevention at nonprofit Caracole, Suzanne Bachmeyer, said. “When we offer people tools that empower them and keep them safe, people take us up on that opportunity.”

According to Bachmeyer, the demand for these test strips has been high, WCPO reported. Although no one has testified against the bill, opponents of the strips argue that they enable drug users.

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

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Whether or not the bill becomes law, it would need to pass the state Senate and then be signed by the governor, WCPO reported.

“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).”

Test strips can be accessed through the Hamilton County Public Health website.

Other harm reduction resources can be found here.

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