Justice and Due Process

Utah Legalizes Fentanyl Test Strips

Fentanyl is an opioid used to treat pain. With 50 to 100 times more potency than morphine, it can be both a powerful tool and a particularly deadly street drug. Fentanyl overdose deaths have been on the rise in Utah, doubling between 2019 and 2020. Because fentanyl is relatively cheap, it is often mixed with more expensive drugs so dealers can deliver the same high at lower costs. This is bad news for users who are at risk both because drug mixes interact with the body in unpredictable ways and because they may not even know they are ingesting fentanyl. 

In an effort to combat drug deaths, the Utah legislature considered a bill which would have created the crime of drug-induced homicide. Basically, if an overdose death could be traced back to a dealer, the dealer would be subject to severe penalties beyond those imposed for simply dealing drugs. And while well-intentioned, it would have done little to save lives: even assuming drug dealers wanted to be responsible, possessing materials to test drugs was illegal in Utah, including cheap and effective fentanyl testing strips. Ultimately, this bill failed.

Thankfully, Senate Bill 86, sponsored by Senator Jen Plumb, who is also a doctor, did pass nearly unanimously. The bill exempted fentanyl test strips from the definition of drug paraphernalia, thereby legalizing their possession. Utah has now joined Alaska, Arizona, Nebraska, South Carolina, Virginia, Wyoming, Ohio, and South Dakota in permitting test strips. Hawaii, New Hampshire, Kansas, and Texas are currently considering similar legislation. 

In an ideal world, no one would use or traffic in harmful drugs. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Until that day, harm-reducing measures like permitting dealers and users to test drugs for fentanyl, will save lives.