Governor Tate Reeves has signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the use of fentanyl testing strips in order to prevent overdose deaths.
House Bill 722, which was authored by Representative Chris Bell, D-Jackson, states that “‘paraphernalia’ does not include any materials used or intended for use in testing for the presence of fentanyl or a fentanyl analog in a substance.”
Lawmakers in the House approved the bill with a 117-0 vote in late January, with the Senate passing HB 722 unanimously on March 3.
Dr. Katherine Pannel, who serves as medical director at Right Track Medical Group, explained that the passing of the bill will help Mississippians get easier access to the test strips.
“You can continue to get them on Amazon or other places, but what this does now is allow Mississippi to get federal funding for these test strips so they’ll be free to the public,” Pannel said. “They’ll be found in community-based health centers like health departments and other health systems. People can actually go and access them, learn how to use them properly, and while they’re there, get other resources for substance abuse treatment.”
The legislation was drafted due to cases of fentanyl overdoses becoming a rising epidemic not only in Mississippi but also across the nation.
In 2022 alone, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released that 107,375 individuals in the U.S. died from drug overdoses, with 67 percent of the deaths relating to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
In some cases, illegal substances are laced with double the lethal dose of 2.5 milligrams of fentanyl, leading to accidental overdoses due to the inability to test for the presence of fentanyl.
Family Care Physician and Addiction Medicine Specialist Dr. Randy Easterling stated that he warns his patients that fentanyl is present in the majority of pills that are not sold by a pharmacy.
“If you take a pill today, wherever you are, whether you are on a college campus, whether you are out on the street, or whatever, you take a pill that didn’t come from a pharmacy, it has fentanyl in it. All we’re talking about it how much fentanyl. Is it enough just to give you a buzz or is it enough to kill you?”