Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

    Bill Decriminalizing Drug Test Strips in Opioid-Ravaged West Virginia Heads to Governor

    CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would decriminalize all strips used to test deadly drugs in West Virginia, the state with the highest overdose rate in the country, is headed to Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s desk.

    Justice has not said publicly whether he supports the bill, which has received bipartisan support. The proposal follows a law signed by Justice in 2022 that decriminalized fentanyl test strips.

    “As time has gone on, unfortunately, we have fentanyl, now we have carfentanil, now we have xylazine,” Republican House Vice Chairman Matthew Rohrbach said on the House floor before the legislation passed overwhelmingly Friday. .

    Rohrbach, who is also chairman of the House Substance Abuse Committee, said the bill aims to ensure that all drug test strips are available to people who need them, without lawmakers having to pass a new legislation every time a new one is developed.

    “It simply says, ‘Deadly drug test strips will be exempt from drug paraphernalia,’” Rohrbach said.

    Under West Virginia law, drug paraphernalia could be hypodermic syringes, needles, capsules and balloons, among other items. A person found in possession of drug paraphernalia could face a misdemeanor charge, a fine of up to $5,000, and six months to a year in jail.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has described drug test strips as a low-cost method to help prevent drug overdoses.

    The proportion of deaths from heroin overdoses has decreased in recent years. Fentanyl and its analogs were involved in 76% of all drug overdose deaths in West Virginia in 2021, up from 58% in 2017. About 75,000 of the nearly 110,000 overdose deaths in 2022 could be related to fentanyl. , according to CDC data. .

    Xylazine is a tranquilizer not approved for use in people that is increasingly found in the US illegal drug supply and was declared an emerging threat by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2023. Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid approximately 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

    Legalizing test strips could reduce those numbers, advocates say, saving lives by helping more people understand how deadly their drugs can be.

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