Kansas House gains traction on legalizing test strips for fentanyl, other drugs

Lawmakers have said increase in overdoses requires response

By: - February 24, 2023 9:55 am
Reps. Eric Smith and Boog Highberger speak in support of fentanyl test strips during a Feb. 23, 2023 House hearing. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Reps. Eric Smith and Boog Highberger speak in support of fentanyl test strips during a Feb. 23, 2023, House hearing. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA —  Citing rising fentanyl overdoses in the state, House lawmakers have inched closer to legalizing fentanyl test strips. 

Rep. Eric Smith, a Burlington Republican, called the test strip legalization part of a two-pronged approach to fighting fentanyl deaths across the state. 

“We all know the horror stories, I’m not going to give you a bunch of them up here,” Smith said during a Thursday House hearing. “You know what’s happening with fentanyl.”

While legal fentanyl is prescribed for pain relief, illegal fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs as an inexpensive way of creating a more powerful high. The synthetic opioid is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. 

Because fentanyl isn’t detectable without a test strip, people taking fentanyl-laced drugs are at a greater risk of overdose. A September 2022 Kansas Department of Health and Environment report on opioid vulnerability reported a 73.5% rise in Kansas drug overdose deaths between 2011 and 2020.

More than half of overdose deaths in 2020 were related to opioids. Of these 254 opioid deaths, 64.3% involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. In 2021, overdose rates continued to increase. Kansas saw the highest number of drug-related deaths recorded in the last 20 years, with opioid cases nearly doubling between 2020 and 2021

Under the legislation, test strips for fentanyl, ketamine and gamma hydroxybutyric acid, known informally as a date rape drug, would be legalized. The test strips for all of these substances are currently classified as drug paraphernalia. 

The legislation would also increase criminal penalties for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances, listing fentanyl as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the same classification as meth. Manufacturing fentanyl would also be punished more severely under the bill. 

Another bill heard in the House on Thursday, House Bill 2390, would legalize the test strips and create an overdose review board aimed at reducing overdose deaths in the state. 

Rep. Jason Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat who has been a driving force behind fentanyl test strip legalization, said more lawmakers understood the need for the legalization as opposed to previous years. A bill legalizing fentanyl testing strips was shot down by Senate Republicans last year

“People are actively being poisoned,” Probst said. “If you think you’re consuming one substance, and there’s something else in the substance that you’re unaware of, whether that’s food or whether it’s drugs, that is poisoning.” 

Lawmakers received the legislation favorably, with a final vote expected later. The bills are expected to pass and move to the Senate.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.