The Kansas House Thursday passed two bills legalizing fentanyl test strips amid a major effort to address deaths and overdoses from the powerful drug.
The House voted unanimously to pass a bill that also increases penalties for distribution and a second bill that legalizes test strips by establishing a review board for overdose deaths.
Fentanyl test strips detect fentanyl in pills and other medications, allowing users to avoid taking drugs combined with the often deadly synthetic opioid. Illegal drugs are often laced with fentanyl, increasing its potency but increasing the risk of a fatal overdose.
“Fentanyl drug overdose deaths are a very real thing in Kansas right now,” said Rep. Ken Collins, a Republican from Mulberry, before telling his colleagues that two people close to him had died of an overdose in the ‘last year.
Overdose deaths soared from 393 in 2019 to 679 in 2021, according to data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, with 347 of the deaths in 2021 attributable in part to synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl. Data for 2022 was not yet available.
Legalizing the stripes has bipartisan support in the House and passed the House last year. But it stalled in the Kansas Senate when Sen. Kellie Warren, a Leawood Republican, urged her colleagues to vote against the measure over concerns that the stripes would encourage more drug use.
A bill passed in the House on Thursday combined legalizing test strips with increased penalties for fentanyl pill makers, creating an automatic prison sentence for violators.
Rep. Jason Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat who has long supported the legislation, said he hoped for bipartisan support for both measures, but acknowledged differing views on the merits of the test strips.
“I assure you that no matter where you live in this state, someone has been affected by fentanyl and it is very likely that someone in your community has died,” Probst said.
Jonathan Shortan of The Star contributed to this report.