Jul 5, 2023 - Health

Floridians hope legalized fentanyl test strips will save lives

Fentanyl test strip package being held by gloved hands

Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

After pleas from doctors and addiction experts, Gov. Ron DeSantis legalized the wide use of fentanyl test strips last week.

Why it matters: The new law is a rare bipartisan victory that's relatively progressive, considering the strips are still considered illegal drug paraphernalia in half of U.S. states.

The big picture: About 68% of national overdose deaths last year β€” around 75,000 of nearly 110,000 β€” could be linked to fentanyl, according to CDC data.

  • Florida ranked second in the nation for overdose deaths in 2021 behind California.
  • The St. Petersburg area had the highest number of fentanyl deaths in Florida that same year, according to the most recent state report.

How it works: The tests, small strips of paper that can be purchased online for about $2 a piece, can detect the presence of fentanyl in a wide variety of drugs including pills, powder, and injectables.

Between the lines: People can overdose on fentanyl whether they realize they're taking it or not, Scott Coon, an assistant professor with the University of South Florida's health college pharmacy and a clinical pharmacist with Tampa General Medical Group, told Axios.

  • "As far as drug supplies, it's pretty much in every nook and cranny at this point," Coon said. "It's not just in opiates, but in stimulants, and people aren't expecting it when it's mixed in with amphetamines like methamphetamine. That increases the risk pretty significantly."

The intrigue: The test strips could save lives and even decrease drug use, Coon told Axios.

  • In a 2018 study published in the National Library of Medicine, some participants who used them reported using smaller amounts of drugs, with someone else who could make sure they were safe or even threw their drugs out. A 2021 study showed similar results.

What they're saying: "This is giving people a fighting chance to be informed about what is contained within their drugs and perhaps change the way that they were going to use those drugs in a safer way," Coon said. "That's harm reduction at its finest."

What's ahead: Coon would like to see the law expanded to decriminalize test strips for other contaminants, including xylazine β€” a potent animal sedative that's been showing up in opioids and other drugs in Tampa Bay.

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