Pannel: Fentanyl test strips do not enable addiction; they enable recovery
Editor’s note: The following is an opinion item provided by Oxford psychiatrist Dr. Katherine Pannel, DO and the Mississippi State Medical Association.
Breaking a record is typically a time for celebration. However, in November of 2021, we broke a record that no one wanted to celebrate. America hit the 100,000 mark for overdose deaths. Fentanyl was the main culprit of those deaths, making up close to 67 percent. Sadly, the fentanyl crisis shows no signs of abating in Mississippi. It is difficult, if not impossible, to control the supply of Fentanyl into Mississippi. We are in a battle to prevent deaths from Fentanyl, and we are losing. We cannot stop the supply of Fentanyl into Mississippi. Fentanyl is colorless, tasteless, odorless and so powerful in such a small amount that enough to kill thousands is easily transported into our state. It is also coming in through the mail via the dark web. Efforts to stop the supply of Fentanyl coming into our state have been futile. Therefore, the only way to reduce death is to stop the demand for Fentanyl. We can stop the demand through education and harm reduction. Education ultimately ends this battle. We have to teach our youth early about the dangers of substance use. But education takes time, and the body count will continue to rise. The only immediate way we prevent deaths and break more heartbreaking records is through harm reduction.
Fentanyl test strips are an inexpensive, easy to use method to prevent deaths from fentanyl. Not only do these strips save lives, but they also put drug dealers out of business. Once a user determines their product has been laced, they do not return to that same dealer, and they let all of those in their circle know not to buy from them either. Fentanyl test strips can therefore actually reduce the supply of fentanyl in addition to saving lives.
These strips cost less than a dollar, are easy to use and are extremely effective at detecting the presence of fentanyl. States can even receive federal funding for these strips, so it costs them nothing. But we cannot access those funds in Mississippi because the strips are considered drug paraphernalia. That’s right. They are against the law and reside in the same category as bongs and pipes.
You cannot turn on the TV, computer or read a paper without reading about another death due to Fentanyl. These deaths are occurring in startling numbers in young adults ages 15-34. Fentanyl is wreaking havoc on college populations. Parents are having to bury their kids instead of attending their graduations. There is legislation in the House and Senate to decriminalize Fentanyl test strips. The vast majority of the public wants this to change. The MS House of Representatives unanimously voted for this change.
Passing this legislation should be a no-brainer. But up to this point, it has not been. And it is due to the misconception that somehow these strips will enable those with substance use disorders to continue to use. This is such a short-sighted thought process. And quite frankly, saying you do not want to equip substance users with these strips means you would rather them die. People with substance use disorders want to get sober and recover but sometimes it takes multiple tries. Addiction is a vicious disease. These strips keep them alive to get them into recovery. Everyone is capable of recovery. We just have to keep them alive to get them there. We cannot get someone into treatment if they are dead.
There is no evidence to support that Fentanyl test strips enable drug use. However, it is a proven fact that Fentanyl test strips save lives.