Alabama lawmakers pass bill to legalize fentanyl test strips to help prevent overdoses – AL.com

The two vertical lines in the center of this test strip show fentanyl was not present in powdered vitamin C residue tested during a demonstration. (James T. Mulder/jmulder@syracuse.com)James T. Mulder
The Alabama Legislature has passed a bill to make it legal to use and distribute test strips that detect the presence of fentanyl in other drugs, an effort to prevent overdoses.
Fentanyl is an addictive opioid far more potent than heroin that is often added to illegal street drugs.
The Jefferson County Coroner’s office reported that 400 people died of overdoses in Jefferson County last year, shattering the previous record of 302 set in 2020. Fentanyl was a factor in 316 of the deaths last year.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson urged lawmakers to approve the bill, a move that would follow changing federal guidelines and similar efforts in other states to increase the availability of test strips.
It’s against the law in Alabama to sell, use or possess drug paraphernalia to analyze or test illegal drugs. The bill passed tonight would make an exception to that for fentanyl test strips.
It was sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, and Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris. The bill had passed the Senate in February and passed the House tonight. It goes to Gov. Kay Ivey, who could sign it into law.
If that happens, Wilson expects the Jefferson County Health Department, other health departments, and agencies that help people with addiction problems to help distribute them. The strips are cheap, about $1 to $3.50 apiece, depending on the quantity bought.
Federal agencies have approved the use of federal dollars to buy fentanyl test strips for distribution.
Two committees that are part of the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council, the law enforcement committee and rescue committee, issued a paper in January supporting the legalization and distribution of fentanyl test strips.
Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized or decriminalized the use of the test strips and other states are considering that, the paper says. Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina allow the use, sale, and distribution of the strips.
A tiny amount of fentanyl, 2-3 milligrams, is lethal. An overdose can happen in about three minutes, compared to an average of 20-30 minutes for heroin.
Wilson said the studies have shown that knowledge that a drug contains fentanyl will change behavior for some drug users.
“For those that have a difficult time understanding why we would maybe be assisting people in using illegal drugs, we’re also trying to help people live long enough to get into treatment and get into recovery,” Wilson told AL.com last month. “A dead person can’t get into recovery. We do believe that if we assist people to try to help keep them safe and they know that we care about them and we’re trying to help them, they’re more likely to warm up to the idea of getting into treatment.”
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