Massachusetts Bill Would Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips

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Should Massachusetts residents go to prison for possessing fentanyl test strips?

A bill (S.926/H.1736) on Beacon Hill would eliminate that penalty, as other states have in recent years.

State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton) filed the bill in the state Senate, while state Representative David Rogers (D-Cambridge) filed it in the House.

Fentanyl test strips are strips of paper used to detect fentanyl presence in various drugs, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug users can use the strips to ensure they are not consuming drugs laced with fentanyl, as fentanyl is the most lethal recreational drug in the United States.

Here is the chief provision of the fentanyl test strip decriminalization bill:


SECTION 1. Section 1 of chapter 94C is hereby amended by inserting at the end of the definition of “Drug paraphernalia” the following sentence:-

The term “drug paraphernalia” shall not include fentanyl test strips or any testing equipment or devices solely used, intended for use, or designed to be used to determine whether a substance contains fentanyl or its analogues.


Under current state law, possession of drug paraphernalia carries up to a two-year prison sentence. 

Stacey McKenna, senior fellow of integrated harm reduction at the libertarian-leaning R Street Institute, issued a public statement supporting the bill last month.

Here is what she said, in part:


Due to the illicit nature of many recreational drugs in the United States, there are no safety or quality control mechanisms in place, and adulterants can significantly increase risk for overdose, especially for individuals who consume them without knowing. In Massachusetts, the current predominant adulterant is illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid which is 50 to 100 times as potent as morphine and has an extremely narrow margin between desired and dangerous effects.

Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are an easy-to-use tool that alert people to the presence of fentanyl and related substances in powder or pills. They have low margins of error, and commercially available products have been shown to detect not only fentanyl but up to 24 of its most commonly found analogs. FTS do not pose any dangers to the community, and research indicates that drug checking can empower people who use drugs to change their behaviors in ways that reduce the risk of overdose.


Additionally, the federal Centers for Disease Control supports people using fentanyl test strips as a harm reduction strategy.

“Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a low-cost method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm,” the CDC’s web site said. “FTS are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, etc.) and drug forms (pills, powder, and injectables). FTS provide people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce risk of overdose.”

Opponents of fentanyl test strip decriminalization argue that they enable drug use, according to Time Magazine.

Massachusetts endured 2,357 confirmed and estimated fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2022, a new state record. It was a 2.5 percent increase over 2021 and a 9.1 percent increase from 2016. Fentanyl was present in 93 percent of fatal opioid overdose deaths where a toxicology screening took place, according to State House News Service. Yet cocaine (53 percent), benzodiazepines (27 percent), amphetamines (9 percent), heroin (6 percent), and xylazine (5 percent) were also involved with many drug overdose deaths, indicating people had ingested multiple drugs in many overdose situations.

The United States had 109,680 drug overdose deaths in 2022, 79,770 of which involved opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The test strip bill has been referred to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary; the bill has not been filed before.

So far, 36 states have removed fentanyl test strips from what they consider drug paraphernalia, according to WCTV.

Creem and Rogers could not be reached for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday.


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