- Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized legislation that removes fentanyl test strips from the state’s list of prohibited drug paraphernalia.
- Fentanyl test strips help individuals identify the presence of fentanyl in illicit drugs, allowing them to take necessary precautions and potentially prevent fatal overdoses. Research indicates that individuals who use test strips are more likely to modify their drug use behavior after detecting fentanyl.
- Florida has seen a significant increase in drug overdose deaths, with fentanyl and benzodiazepines being major contributors.
- The introduction of fentanyl to local communities has been a concern, prompting state agencies to take measures to suppress its distribution and improve access to medical response. These efforts include requesting a declaration of fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction and establishing a Statewide Council on Opioid Abatement.
Fulfilling a long-requested priority of public health officers, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation on Monday night that removes fentanyl test strips from Florida’s list of prohibited drug paraphernalia.
The bill, HB 164, was unanimously cleared by both the House and Senate earlier this year. In passing the measure, Florida becomes the 24th state to legalize the low-cost overdose-prevention tool.
According to Center for Disease Control guidance, test strips can help individuals identify the presence of fentanyl in illicit drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, enabling them to take appropriate precautions and potentially prevent fatal overdoses.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) further underscores the potential of fentanyl test strips to reduce opioid overdose deaths. Published research indicates that individuals who use test strips are more likely to modify or eliminate their drug use behavior after detecting fentanyl.
“Once signed into law, this important step will save many lives from the opioid epidemic,” said the State Attorney’s Office of Palm Beach County upon the legislature’s passage of the bill.
A report published in December by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) highlighted a ten percent increase in drug overdose deaths in 2021, with spikes in fentanyl and benzodiazepines usage.
According to the report, toxicological findings indicated that drugs were present at the time of death in 16,138 of the 36,523 fatalities that medical examiners investigated. FDLE reports 8,411 opioid‐related deaths, an increase of 569 deaths, or seven percent, compared to 2020.
The most frequently occurring drugs found in recorded deaths were ethyl alcohol (6,511 deaths), fentanyl (6,417 deaths), benzodiazepines (4,195 deaths), cocaine (4,015 deaths), cannabinoids (3,845 deaths), methamphetamine (2,934 deaths), fentanyl analogs (2,801 deaths), amphetamine (2,647 deaths), morphine (1,201 deaths), oxycodone (1,111 deaths) and gabapentin (1,091 deaths).
The introduction of fentanyl to local communities has been a hot topic issue at the state level, with Attorney General Ashley Moody taking steps to combat the crisis.
According to the Department of Health in October, Florida surpassed 4,000 reported fatal overdose cases in 2022, with the actual number likely much higher, as counties statewide continue to struggle with the introduction of counterfeit opioids.
In FDLE’s report, St. Petersburg recorded the most deaths caused by fentanyl at 654, followed by Ft. Lauderdale (611 deaths), Jacksonville (560 deaths), and West Palm Beach (547 deaths).
In response, a range of state agencies has introduced initiatives to suppress the introduction of opioids into the state and make medical response access more accessible.
Moody in September led a national consortium of bipartisan Attorneys General, who collectively wrote to President Joe Biden to request a declaration of fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.
“Currently, fentanyl is exacerbating the death toll increasing exponentially every year for the last several years. The purpose of this letter is to propose an unorthodox solution that may help abate or at least slow the crisis’s trajectory while also protecting Americans from a mass casualty event from fentanyl,” Moody’s letter reads.
Moreover, legislation was signed into law by DeSantis this month to create a Statewide Council on Opioid Abatement within the Department of Children and Families. According to the bill, the agency will be constructed to enhance the development of state and local efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.
The council will be composed of 10 members, including the state Attorney General. Members will serve two-year terms and advise state and local governments on methods to resolve or remedy the opioid epidemic, review how settlement monies recovered from the opioid litigation have been spent, and work with the Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council.
The council, as outlined within the bill, will utilize data from local, state, and national agencies to analyze the current status and severity of the opioid epidemic both regionally and statewide, in order to provide advice to state and local governments.
“The future is never guaranteed, especially when dealing with these issues,” said Sen. Jason Pizzo, who supported the measure. “This is going to save lives.”