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Advocates say fentanyl test strips save lives. New bill could decriminalize them

Indiana statehouse in early winter.
Lauren Chapman
/
IPB News
HB 1053 removes the parts of Indiana law that classifies tools for “testing the strength, effectiveness, or purity of a controlled substance” as controlled substance paraphernalia.

A common harm reduction tool used to test for the presence of fentanyl in controlled substances is considered “paraphernalia” under Indiana law — but a new bill could change that. The House passed a bill Tuesday that would decriminalize fentanyl test strips.

HB 1053 removes the parts of Indiana law that classifies tools for “testing the strength, effectiveness, or purity of a controlled substance” as controlled substance paraphernalia.

Tony Hostetler, a leader of the Ohio River Valley chapter of Hoosier Action, said harm reduction tools like fentanyl test strips kept him alive long enough to find recovery. During his testimony to the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, Hostetler showed committee members what a test strip looks like.

“It's shocking to me that I can carry it like this,” Hostetler said. “And it's harmless. But once I dip it in the substance and test for fentanyl, then it becomes illegal. It’s a misdemeanor, could send me back into a county jail.”

Hostetler and other advocates said fentanyl test strips prevent overdoses by identifying when the dangerous substance is present. He said harm reduction strategies are a path to keep people alive.

READ MORE: How do I follow Indiana’s legislative session? Here’s your guide to demystify the process

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Jennings Tennery, the grants and finance manager with Overdose Lifeline, said fentanyl test strips give people a moment to pause and make a decision that could save their life.

“In this one moment, I decided to test the substance and when it came back positive for fentanyl,” Tennery said. “I made the decision and this time, although I'm going to use this, and because addiction has me so grasped, I'm not going to use it alone today.”

Tennery said when she overdosed, someone was there to use naloxone and call 911. She’s been clean ever since.

Indiana had the 10th highest rate of overdose mortality in 2021.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Abigail is our health reporter. Contact them at aruhman@wboi.org.

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Abigail Ruhman covers statewide health issues. Previously, they were a reporter for KBIA, the public radio station in Columbia, Missouri. Ruhman graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.