JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi will decriminalize materials that allow people to test illegal drugs to detect if they are spiked with fentanyl, a highly powerful synthetic opioid painkiller.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed House Bill 722 on Monday, and it becomes law July 1.
“It’s a sad reality that fentanyl overdoses are skyrocketing as a result of an open border,” Reeves wrote on Twitter. “This bill will help to save lives.”
Fentanyl is not illegal and is used in hospitals nationwide, but it is also widely added to illegal drugs sold on the street and is blamed for about 70,000 opioid deaths every year in the United States. A report last year from a bipartisan federal commission found that fentanyl and similar drugs are being made mostly in labs in Mexico from chemicals shipped primarily from China.
Delivering test strips to people is part of harm reduction strategy that gives appropriate products to drug users to prevent accidental overdoses. If someone is about to take an illicit drug, they can dip a test strip into drug residue dissolved in water. With information from the test, a person can take steps to reduce their risk of dying from an overdose.
The Mississippi bill to decriminalize fentanyl testing materials passed with broad bipartisan support by a vote of 117-3 in the House and 50-0 in the Senate.
Democratic Rep. Chris Bell of Jackson, who sponsored the bill, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that fentanyl testing trips are a safety measure akin to seat belts in vehicles.
“Seat belts don’t encourage bad driving, but they’re there to protect us in case we make a mistake,” Bell said.
Current Mississippi law considers fentanyl testing products such as test strips and testing wipes “drug paraphernalia,” and if someone is convicted of possessing these products, they can face up to six months in jail.