West Chester, Pa (November 16, 2022) – A new law decriminalizing fentanyl test strips will help prevent overdose deaths by making available an important tool to identify and avoid the potent and deadly drug, state Senator Carolyn Comitta said.

Earlier this month, the governor signed into law House Bill 1393 as Act 111 of 2022, which amends the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act of 1972 to no longer define fentanyl test strips as drug paraphernalia.   

Comitta, who serves on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, was joined by her fellow state lawmakers in unanimously approving the legislation. She was also a co-sponsor of a Senate version of the bill, introduced by state Senator Tim Kearney.

“This small change in our laws can have a great impact to help save lives in our community,” Comitta, who serves on the Health and Human Services Committee said. “By allowing individuals to have greater information about the potential presence of fentanyl, we have one more resource to help combat overdoses.” 

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, nearly 100 times more potent than morphine. In the medical setting, fentanyl can be used to treat patients with chronic pain, such as pain associated with advanced cancer or severe pain following surgery. Illicit fentanyl, on the other hand, is primarily manufactured outside of the United States, illegally brought into the U.S. and distributed and sold on the illegal drug market. It is sold as powders, nasal sprays, and pills that are made to look like prescription opioids. Fentanyl is being mixed with other illicit drugs, primarily heroin, to increase its potency. Mixing fentanyl with other drugs increases the likelihood of its use leading to a fatal overdose.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 78 percent of the 5,343 overdose deaths statewide in 2021 involved fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is undetectable through sight, taste, and smell. Unless a drug is tested with a fentanyl test strip, it is nearly impossible for an individual to know if it has been laced with fentanyl,” Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith. “We continue to encourage all Pennsylvanians to equip themselves with the life-saving drug naloxone, and now with the legalization of fentanyl test strips, individuals have an additional tool to fight the overdose crisis. This legalization is a big win in the harm reduction space, allowing individuals to be more informed given the large amount of fentanyl in our drug supply — this small strip of paper could save their life.”

Fentanyl test strips are a low-cost method to help prevent drug overdoses and reduce harm. These small strips of paper can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs and drug forms providing people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply.

“The legalization of fentanyl test strips will undoubtedly help save the lives of Pennsylvanians by reducing drug overdoses,” said Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson. “Many people take the deadly drug without knowing it. Now, they can use test strips to identify the presence of fentanyl, so they are not accidentally exposed to the drug.”

In Pennsylvania, the number of overdose deaths increased by 3.3 percent from 2020 to 2021. On average, nearly 14 Pennsylvanians died from a drug overdose every day in 2020 and that number increased last year.

Earlier this year, Comitta joined with local officials and business leaders in the restaurant and hospitality industry to offer a free training on identifying the signs of overdose and safely administering naloxone, a medication approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. 

“Every life has value and every person deserves a chance at recovery. Too many families in our communities have lost loved ones to drug overdose,” she said. “ For people struggling with a substance use disorder, this is another opportunity to help them stay alive and another chance for them to pursue a life of recovery.”

Individuals seeking treatment or substance use support for themselves or a loved one can call the toll-free PA Get Help Now helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The free, confidential hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and staffed by trained professionals. 

Local support is available through the Chester County Department of Drug and Alcohol Service at 1-866-286-3767. All calls are confidential, and support is available for those without insurance.