With more than 106,000 people dying from drug overdoses nationally in 2021, more states are implementing harm reduction tools to deal with the problem, especially when it comes to accidental deaths due to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the CDC.
One of those harm reduction tools is fentanyl test strips, small pieces of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs. A growing list of states has legalized their use in recent years – but not Florida.
But that might change this year if a proposal sponsored by Broward/Palm Beach County Senate Democrat Tina Polsky (SB 164) makes it through the Legislature this session.
“It’s past time that our state joins more than 35 states led by both Republicans and Democrats and adopts a similar law,” Polsky told the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday morning. Those include red states such as Ohio, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, South Dakota, and Tennessee, which have all passed similar measures in the past year.
Polsky’s proposal received little pushback in the committee meeting, with the exception of comments by Gainesville Republican Keith Perry. He voted “yes” on it Wednesday but said that he wouldn’t in the future if Polsky doesn’t add language to ensure that the test will only determine if fentanyl is present in the substance that it’s being tested for or not – and doesn’t allow for quantifying if there is a certain percentage of fentanyl in the product.
“What we could be doing is empowering dealers,” Perry said. “I think that the way that the (bill) language reads, they can have pretty sophisticated testing equipment that we would allow them to have legally in the state of Florida to test it – the quantities and potencies. We don’t want to have to empower dealers to have more tools legally by the state of Florida.”
Brevard County Republican Debbie Mayfield chairs the Senate Rules Committee. She said she conferred with her own local state attorney when considering whether to agenda the bill and said that he and other state attorneys around the state strongly support the measure.
“Kids are dying, and fentanyl is coming across the border, and things are being laced with fentanyl that we don’t even know. Kids do not know that it’s being laced,” she said.
In fact, fentanyl was involved in 6,417 deaths in Florida, according to the state’s Medical Examiner’s Commission.
Pensacola Republican Doug Broxson acknowledged that the Florida Legislature has historically been slow to embrace an issue like harm reduction, but with the opioid crisis still a significant issue in Florida and the country, they can’t delay any further.
“Now we’re entering into a new era where we’re seeing a very aggressive use of certain drugs, and we know the innocent are being affected. People who had no intention of ever taking an illegal drug have been impacted,” he said, adding that “I think we’re going to see more of this type of legislation in the future as the cartels and the foreign entities begin to use this as a tool to terrorize our young people and adults.”
The Legislature had the opportunity to pass a similar proposal in the 2022 regular legislative session, but a proposal to decriminalize fentanyl strips died on the last day of the session.
With its unanimous passage in the Senate Rules Committee, the measure will now go to the Senate floor – but its future is still very much undecided.
In the Florida House, which in recent years has shot down criminal justice reforms passed in the Senate, the bill (HB 165) sponsored by Broward County Democrat Christine Hunschofsky has yet to be heard in either of the two committees that have been assigned.
Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here