Massachusetts Senate approves bill to make fentanyl strips legal, says more work to do



STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 4, 2024…..The Senate voted Thursday to make a drug overdose prevention tool legal, but some senators said there’s more to do as Massachusetts continues to grapple with a devastating opioid epidemic.

Senators voted 39-0 to pass a bill to re-categorize fentanyl test strips, so they would not be considered illegal drug paraphernalia under Massachusetts law. The testing strips can warn people if drugs or pills they plan to use contain the potentially deadly synthetic opiate that has infiltrated drug supplies across the country, fentanyl.

In the first three months of 2023, fentanyl was present in 93 percent of all fatal overdoses in Massachusetts, according to the most recent available data from the Department of Public Health, and it is being detected in heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, methamphetamine and other drugs.

“We have to build on the legislation we’ve already passed and bring these horrifying numbers down,” Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton, who sponsored the fentanyl test strip bill, said during the Senate session Thursday. “The test strips cost roughly $1 each, so they can be made available at low cost, and we know they’re an effective way to prevent overdoses.”

Sens. Nick Collins of South Boston and John Velis of Westfield filed amendments to the legislation, supporting the original intent of the bill while simultaneously looking to add other overdose prevention policies.

One Collins amendment sought to prevent shortages of Narcan, an over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

“At the end of last year, the closest pharmacy to the State House, at Downtown Crossing, was out of, I repeat, out of, Narcan due to the scourge of overdoses that — if you live in my district — you see daily, backed up by the devastating numbers reported by the Department of Public Health,” Collins said Thursday.

The amendment would have required that retail pharmacies notify the Department of Public Health if their supply of naloxone spray is insufficient, so the department could intervene.

Collins and Velis both withdrew all of their amendments but called for these overdose prevention policies to be taken up in larger bills later this session.

The South Boston Democrat’s other amendment would have allowed Suffolk County social workers and clinicians to perform court-ordered evaluations in hospitals or medical facilities, rather than just in courthouses.

“Of the 100 or so petitions that were made in Suffolk County last year, 95 percent of them were by family. We know that people that are being admitted to the hospital, not a lot of them have family around, and the professionals who are able to perform these processes are forced to have people go to the courthouse, brought in shackles, to have this process begin,” Collins said.

Collins argued that people who overdose and have criminal records are at “rock bottom” when brought to the hospital in an ambulance. Connecting them to social workers there, he said, may be more effective than having to be brought into court for intervention.

Velis’ two amendments had to do with other drug testing tools and increasing public awareness of the fentanyl crisis. He withdrew both amendments but also asked that the policies be taken up at a later date.

The Westfield Democrat’s first amendment would have legalized drug testing tools for substances other than just for fentanyl.

More and more drugs have been contaminated with fentanyl in recent years, he said, but many overdoses are considered “poly-substance” overdoses, where it is a combination of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepine or xylazine that can lead to a fatality.

Xylazine in particular has become more prevalent in the last few years and can have devastating effects on those who unknowingly use it. It is a veterinary pain reliever and sedative not considered safe for humans, called the “zombie drug” for the severe wounds and necessary amputations it can cause.

“We cannot anticipate future contaminants in our drug supply or the necessary drug testing equipment. I would be willing to venture that there’s probably not a person in this room who 10 years ago had heard of fentanyl,” Velis said. “Chances are, years down the road, probably much sooner, there’s going to be a new contaminant that none of us have ever heard of that is killing just as many people.”

Velis also offered an amendment to create a commission to review current public awareness programs around the contaminated drug supply.

“This is a monumental piece of legislation today. It is phenomenal. My ask is that as we move forward in the legislative session, we talk about ways that we can expand,” he said. “Fentanyl is literally killing our constituents and we need to do more.”

1 Comment

  1. God save the King

    January 5, 2024 at 5:47 pm

    Hey. You can’t take trump off the ballot. He was ACQUITTED of J6. Move the F on people.

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