HARRISBURG, Pa. – Separate measures seeking to legalize fentanyl test strips and broaden the types of overdose reversal medications or devices that potentially could be used to save someone’s life received the approval of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Both bills subsequently moved to the Senate floor for full consideration. However, just eight days remain on the session calendar for either to pass into law. The measures each passed through the House in June without dissenting votes.

The positive momentum for both bills comes during National Recovery Month and one day ahead of Recovery Advocacy Day at the state Capitol.

Federal estimates find approximately 5,400 people died of a fatal drug overdose in Pennsylvania in 2021. State officials say three in four of those deaths involved fentanyl and related substances.

House Bill 1393 seeks to legalize the test strips, which are currently classified as drug paraphernalia. The strips, which retail for about $1, were first designed for urinalysis. They can detect fentanyl in a particular substance. They don’t determine potency.

Fentanyl is highly fatal, more so than heroin or morphine. A report from the Office of Attorney General reinforced that the synthetic opioid, trafficked by Mexican drug cartels, supplanted heroin as the predominant drug causing fatal overdoses.

Its presence in a particular street drug isn’t always known. It’s sold as a powder, can be cut into other drugs such as cocaine and is pressed into counterfeit prescription pills mimicking Valium or Adderall, for example.

Harm reduction advocates say the strips allow substance users an opportunity to rethink their next dose, even if it’s ensuring they wait to use with another person or have a dose of naloxone on standby to reverse the opioid’s effects. It also buys them more time to potentially seek recovery from addiction.

State Rep. James Struzzi, R-Indiana, first introduced the measure in 2019 and reintroduced it in 2021. He was inspired by the loss of his brother, Michael, who died of a fatal drug overdose in 2014.

“If we can just provide this tool to help them and hopefully get them into recovery, because recovery is possible, we know that, I think it’s worth taking the chance,” Struzzi told lawmakers during Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee meeting.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, a longtime advocate for addiction recovery, said there may be opponents to fentanyl test strips. There were opponents to naloxone, the overdose reversal medication that’s saved thousands of lives, too.

“You can’t treat somebody if they’re dead,” Yaw said of the possibility for recovery from substance use disorder.

Naloxone is the primary tool used to reverse opioid overdoses. There remains a standing order in Pennsylvania allowing anyone to purchase naloxone from a pharmacy without a prescription. But, pharmacological advances may one day offer additional medications or devices to reverse a potentially fatal overdose.

That’s the purpose of House Bill 2527, introduced by state Rep. Chris Quinn, R-Delaware. Under Quinn’s proposal, the term “naloxone” would be replaced by “opioid antagonist” in Pennsylvania’s existing Good Samaritan Law to allow for further advances in life-saving medication.

Quinn told committee members that current estimates have at least 14 Pennsylvanians dying each day of a fatal drug overdose. When the Federal Drug Administration approves new medications or devices, Pennsylvania will be prepared to have them used immediately, Quinn said.

“From day one, when the medications are ready we can start saving lives,” Quinn said.

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