Rep. Struzzi knows the pain of losing a loved one all too well.By Jessica Guay

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A local state representative is continuing to push for a bill that would legalize fentanyl test strips for personal use in Pennsylvania.

“Fentanyl is the number one cause of overdose deaths in this country right now, especially between 18- and 45-year-olds. And that’s simply unacceptable,” said Pennsylvania State Representative James Struzzi (R-Indiana).

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Rep. Struzzi is sponsoring House Bill 1393, which would take fentanyl test strips out of the drug paraphernalia classification, so people can use them for personal use to make sure they are not laced or cut with fentanyl. The bill was discussed during a public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Struzzi knows the pain of losing a loved one all too well. His brother, Michael, died of an overdose at the age of 31.

“I lost my brother seven years ago, not to fentanyl, but I understand the pain that comes with losing a loved one or a friend or family member to do a drug overdose. And my view is that if we can find ways, simple ways like fentanyl test strips to give them a second chance, to allow them to survive an overdose. By no means am I condoning drug use by sponsoring this bill, but I see it as a way to save people’s lives and find a way to get them into treatment so they can recover and live a good quality of life,” the local lawmaker said.

Fentanyl can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin and can be deadly even in small doses, according to the CDC. There were 5,075 fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania in 2020, according to the state Department of Health.

“Fentanyl test strips can be a lifesaving measure for people,” said Alice Bell, overdose prevention project coordinator at Prevention Point Pittsburgh.

The test strips aren’t new to Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that provides harm reduction services.

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“They are easy to use, they are basically like a pregnancy test, simple to use, just a quick yes or no,” Bell said.

The nonprofit has an office and four mobile vans. It provides free supplies to help people use drugs more safely. Bell said the organization started distributing fentanyl test strips in 2017 and since then, it has distributed 17,000 of them.

“Initially, we did a pilot project where we did a survey with people and we found that 89 percent of the people that used the test strips reported that they did do something different as a result, they used less, they told other people there was fentanyl in their drugs,” she said.

Bell said this bill is a no-brainer. She thinks it should pass and the test strips should be legalized.

Rep. Struzzi said the fentanyl test strips only cost about $1. He said this bill needs to make it to the governor’s desk as soon as possible before we lose more Pennsylvanians to the disease of addiction.

“The grief doesn’t go away, and we can’t help people if they’re not here. So we give people a second chance with these tools and find a way to get them out of addiction and into recovery,” Rep. Struzzi said. “We can’t offer them hope, we can’t offer them help, we can’t offer them a second chance if they are not here with us.”

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The bill is still in the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Struzzi is hoping that the committee saw what these test strips can do and how they could help people. He hopes the bill will be voted out for a full vote on the House floor as soon as possible.