Fentanyl test strips should be legal in Pennsylvania, auditor general says
Citing the growing role of fentanyl in drug overdoses, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Wednesday called on state lawmakers to legalize fentanyl test strips.
The call was among the top recommendations DePasquale released in a new report, “A Deadly Dose: Fentanyl’s Impact on Pennsylvania.”
The two-term auditor general, who is mounting a Democratic primary campaign in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District in eastern Pennsylvania, said the state and federal governments must do more to combat the scourge of fentanyl.
DePasquale said reports showed the synthetic opioid was among the three deadliest drugs in every Pennsylvania county that tracked data in 2017 and contributed to a 65% increase in overdose deaths between 2015 and 2017.
“Fentanyl, which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin, is often present in street drugs such as heroin and cocaine, but users don’t realize it,” DePasquale said. “Beyond the tragic cost in lives lost to overdoses, the fentanyl epidemic is driving billions of dollars in costs to Pennsylvania taxpayers and our economy.”
Authorities said the widespread introduction of fentanyl into street drugs was a factor in the dramatic spike in overdose deaths across the region in 2016 and 2017.
Although overdose deaths declined in 2018, fentanyl was a factor in 88 of 120 overdose deaths in Westmoreland County alone, records show.
Fentanyl strips, which are classified as drug paraphernalia and illegal in Pennsylvania, can show whether a drug contains the potent opioid and alert drug users to danger, DePasquale said.
“The General Assembly should act to make test strips legal and widely available because they can help to save lives,” DePasquale said.
He said there are already at least two bills pending in the Legislature that would do that and called on lawmakers to pass them and “get them to the governor’s desk.”
Now that fentanyl has become a major contributor to the opioid epidemic, the costs alone should move lawmakers to act, DePasquale said.
He quoted the White House Council of Economic Advisors report that estimated that the opioid epidemic cost the U.S. approximately $500 billion per year in health care and treatment costs, criminal justice costs, lost productivity and mortality costs.
“Pennsylvania’s share of that cost is roughly $25 billion per year – or nearly $2,000 per person,” DePasquale said.
Although it’s difficult to parse out the total cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers and insurers, DePasquale said the cost of opioid treatment billed to Medicaid alone cost $178 million last year.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .