State legislation filed in 2023 session would legalize fentanyl test strips

More than a dozen bills filed in the 2023 Texas legislative session would legalize fentanyl test strips if passed.

While addressing the fentanyl crisis in Hays County on Thursday, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn voiced his support.

"I think any additional tools that would be available to parents and students to be able to test some of this to see whether it's contaminated with fentanyl or not has the potential to save lives," said Sen. Cornyn.

Fentanyl overdoses have become the number one cause of death among adults ages 18 to 45 in the U.S., according to the CDC.

More than a dozen fentanyl-related bills have been filed this legislative session, with most decriminalizing test strips if passed.

The controversial topic has recently gained bipartisan support. In December, Gov. Greg Abbott reversed his previous opposition to decriminalizing the strips.

"We tend to be cautious," said Andy Hogue, communications director for the Travis County Republican Party. "We don't want something that will become a crutch for a drug user, but on the other hand, we don't want people dying either."

Hogue is open to making test strips more available but doesn't see it as a "one-size-fits-all" solution.

"Maybe a better approach would be to localize it, perhaps to try pilot programs to see where the highest incidence of fentanyl abuse is and try a pilot program with the Narcan, testing strips," said Hogue. "Let’s see what the data says and see where it may lead to higher - or may be associated with higher - drug use or where it may actually lead or be associated with a decrease."

Under Texas law, fentanyl testing strips are considered illegal drug paraphernalia.

Rick Cofer, a local defense attorney who briefly campaigned to be chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, would like to see that change.

"It’s a matter of balancing harm reduction with abolition, said Cofer. "The reality is it's highly unlikely that people are going to completely stop using any type of medication that's obtained improperly, and it’s probably better to err on the side of testing so that we don't have all of these terrible, tragic deaths in our community."

Cofer has defended multiple clients with fentanyl-related cases.

"I’ve never represented someone that's charged with possession or distribution of fentanyl who thought they were selling pills that contain fentanyl," said Cofer. "The people that sell and the people that buy, for the most part, think that they're buying or selling fake Percocets or fake oxycodone."

Cofer also noted another action lawmakers could take on the federal level.

"Senator Cornyn could do one thing immediately that would have a dramatic effect on the fentanyl crisis in America, which is moving fentanyl from being a Schedule II drug to a Schedule I drug," said Cofer. Right now, under federal law, marijuana is considered a more serious controlled substance to possess than fentanyl, and that's just wrong."

While fentanyl test strips are still considered drug paraphernalia in most states, some have legalized them, most recently Ohio in January.

On Thursday, the Kansas House approved two bills that would legalize fentanyl test strips.