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New law clarifies fentanyl test strips are legal in Oklahoma

Jack Bunja
U.S. Army

Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, authored House Bill 1987, which Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed. It clarifies that the little paper strips are legal to carry around.

“You know, we do not condone drug use, but we want to help people get rehabilitated,” Dollens said during floor debate. “And in order to do that, they must be alive.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. There’s a pharmaceutical version that doctors use in surgery, but we’re talking about the illicit version that’s usually made in labs abroad and smuggled into the United States.

In 2022, 300 Oklahomans died of a fentanyl overdose, according to state data. That's more than half of Oklahoma’s overdose deaths that year.

“This is a step kind of like the clean needle exchange or having Naloxone or Narcan. This is just one more step in helping keeping people alive,” Dollens said.

The strips are necessary because a lot of people who end up taking fentanyl aren’t doing it on purpose. It’s hidden in other drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamine. That’s because it’s cheap.

Kimberly Hill-Crowell, the clinical director of Grand Addiction Recovery Center in Tulsa, said cutting heroin and other drugs with fentanyl brings the makers’ costs down. It also makes the supply more addictive.

Before HB 1987 passed, there was some ambiguity in the law, about whether it was safe to walk around with fentanyl test strips.

“...which was really kind of a frustrating phenomenon, I guess you could say, because we're using it as harm reduction,” Hill-Crowell said. “We're using it to say, hey, if you're going to use be careful, or if you know someone who's using be careful.

And “test strips” might sound fancy, but it's literally just a strip. It’s a little piece of papery plastic. It fits in the palm of your hand.

The strips work essentially the same with pills and powders. You dissolve a pinch of the drug supply in a bit of water, like a bottle cap’s worth. For pills, it’s best to break them in half and scratch a little out from the middle. Getting the supply on your skin isn’t an issue; the CDC says, quote, “brief skin contact with illicit fentanyl is not expected to lead to toxic effects if any visible contamination is promptly removed.”

“And if two lines show up on the strip, it's negative. It does not have fentanyl in it,” Hill-Crowell said. “The Department of Mental Health is supplying it to us to give to individuals to say, you know, we know this drug is out there. We know that it's strong. We know that it's killing people.”

The department reported it handed out 35,000 test strips across the state in fiscal year 2022. That included places like Grand, which often offer the strips in kits that also contain Narcan.

So we distribute them through our outreach teams,” Hill-Crowell said. “ If you just want to come and get some for yourself or your family members, we have staff that carry them. So we go to homeless encampments, we go to Iron Gate, we go to food pantries, just anywhere. We go to QuikTrips anywhere in the community.”

HB 1987, which clarifies these strips are legal, officially goes into effect on November 1.

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Catherine Sweeney