HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill that would legalize fentanyl test strips.

House Bill 1393 amends The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act of 1972, which includes the definition of drug paraphernalia.

The new bill, which previously passed the House Appropriations and Judiciary committees, provides a definition of drug paraphernalia that does not include fentanyl test strips.

This definition does not include testing products utilized in determining whether a controlled substance contains chemicals, toxic substances or hazardous compounds in quantities which can cause physical harm or death. The term “testing products” shall include, but is not limited to, fentanyl test strips.

House Bill 1393

Supporters say the change in law will help drug users avoid overdoses by testing for fentanyl without the risk of being charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

“If we can give people a simple tool to give them a second chance, we need do that,” Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana) said in floor remarks.

Struzzi’s brother Michael died of an overdose eight years ago. It wasn’t due to fentanyl, but he understands the impact addiction can have.

“I’d give anything to have my brother back in my life and I know that most people who have lost a loved one to an addiction would say the same thing,” Struzzi said.

According to the City of Philadelphia, fentanyl test strips “detect the presence or absence of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.” Fentanyl is undetectable through sight, taste, and smell.

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Unless a drug is tested with a fentanyl test strip, it is nearly impossible for an individual to know if it has been laced with fentanyl,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith during a February briefing.

Philadelphia officials say fentanyl is often found in heroin and pressed pills distributed in the city. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) signed an executive order in August 2021 to decriminalize fentanyl test strips.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has said his office “will not prosecute individuals for simply possessing fentanyl test strips.”

“I’m not condoning drug use, but people are going to use them and if they can, at least test that substance and maybe not use as much a bit or not use that particular one when they realize that ‘oh, this could kill me,’ maybe they’ll think twice about it,” Struzzi said.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of HealthOpens In A New Window, 75% of the 5,089 overdose deaths statewide in 2020 involved fentanyl. In Allegheny County specifically, 85% of the 683 overdose deaths in 2020 involved fentanyl. 

Jack Carroll, executive director of the Cumberland-Perry Drug & Alcohol Commission says the test strips don’t address the underlying problem, but that’s being taken care of with “warm handoff programs, brief Intervention and referral, treatment, especially different forms of medication, assisted treatment,” he said. “But you got to keep somebody alive to give them a chance to access those types of treatment resources.”

A second bill to legalize fentanyl test strips is currently in the Pennsylvania Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report