Kansans will soon be able to use fentanyl test strips without fear of being prosecuted after Gov. Laura Kelly signed Senate Bill 174 earlier this month, a measure that addiction experts hope will prevent deaths from accidental fentanyl poisoning.
“By decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips, we are helping Kansans protect themselves from a deadly poison that has taken far too many lives — including the tragic and profoundly painful loss of far too many teenagers and young adults in our state,” said Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, who sponsored legislation to decriminalize the strips over the past three years.
The bill removes fentanyl test strips from the state’s law that defines drug paraphernalia, meaning that possessing the strips will no longer be a crime. It also removes a legal barrier that restricted pharmacies, online retailers and harm-reduction programs from legally distributing the strips, allowing them to be more widely available. Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita stopped enforcing the ban last year, but because the strips were criminalized, online and retail pharmacies would not carry them.
The inexpensive test strips are intended to test urine for the presence of fentanyl, but can also be used to test drugs before they are consumed. Because fentanyl is deadly in small amounts, people who ingest it unknowingly risk their lives.
The bill is the first significant harm reduction policy enacted by Kansas lawmakers since 2017 when naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of accidental opioid overdose, was made available without a prescription. Earlier this year, the Federal Drug Administration made naloxone nasal spray, known by the brand name Narcan, available over-the-counter.
For years, fentanyl test strips were considered drug paraphernalia in most states. But the recent emergence of illicit drugs containing fentanyl, a potent and frequently deadly synthetic opioid, led to a jump in opioid-related deaths nationwide. One by one, many states have removed the strips from drug paraphernalia bans in the hopes that the availability of fentanyl test strips could slow the rate of deaths from accidental fentanyl poisoning.
As of January 2023, Kansas was one of 17 states where the possession of fentanyl test strips was still illegal. So far this year, Kentucky, Massachusetts, South Dakota and Utah have also adopted laws decriminalizing the test strips.
There remain two other widely adopted harm-reduction policies that Kansas has yet to enact: legalizing syringe exchange programs and adopting a “Good Samaritan” law that would protect bystanders who call for help for someone experiencing an overdose. A Beacon analysis in March found that prior to passing SB180, Kansas had enacted the fewest of four widely used harm reduction policies of any state in the country.