Commonsense harm reduction strategy proven to encourage safer consumption behavior, save lives
BOSTON (1/4/2024)—Today, the Massachusetts Senate debated and unanimously passed An Act relative to fentanyl test strips—S.2543—legislation to help prevent overdoses and save lives by making legal the sale, possession, and distribution of fentanyl test strips, and other testing equipment used to identify fentanyl, in the Commonwealth. Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), a long-time advocate of harm reduction policies, voted to pass the measure.
If passed into law, the bill would add a potent tool to support drug users in knowing whether they are consuming fentanyl. Fentanyl test strips are a proven harm reduction strategy that have been shown to help drug users engage in less risky behavior, including by discarding drugs, reducing doses, using drugs more slowly, using drugs with someone else around, or keeping naloxone nearby.
“Since taking office in 2017, I’ve been vocal about the need to implement policies that promote harm reduction for vulnerable residents struggling with substance use,” said Senator Friedman, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “This legislation, like other actions we’ve taken as a state, would reduce harm in a way that is easy to use and is not cost prohibitive. I will continue to support commonsense measures like this that save lives and give those struggling with substance use disorder a better chance at recovery.”
Fentanyl-related overdoses are far too frequent in Massachusetts. Between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023, 2,323 people suffered from overdoses in Massachusetts, and in the first three months of 2023, fentanyl was present in 93% of fatal overdoses. According to the most recent data from the Department of Public Health, opioid-related deaths rose 2.5% in 2022, with Black residents accounting for the largest increase.
In 2020, the Department of Public Health had success with a pilot program in which they collaborated with six police departments across the state to distribute fentanyl test strips. Though outcomes were positive, there was significant confusion over the legal status of fentanyl test strips and whether they could be classified as drug paraphernalia, which would make possession punishable by statute.
If passed into law, S.2543 would remove such a barrier to harm reduction by addressing any lingering concerns about criminal or civil liability by including a Good Samaritan provision that exempts from liability “any person who, in good faith provides, administers or utilizes fentanyl test strips or any testing equipment or devices solely used, intended for use, or designed to be used to determine whether a substance contains fentanyl or its analogues.”
The legislation brings Massachusetts into line with 36 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have legalized fentanyl test strips.
Having passed the Senate, the bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.