The Phoenix Flyer

Florida Legislature unanimously passes legislation decriminalizing fentanyl test strips

By: - May 4, 2023 10:23 am

Representatives Christine Hunschofsky and Dana Trabulsy, and state Sen. Tina Polsky, on the Florida House floor on May 3, 2023. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Legislation that would legalize test strips that can detect fentanyl — the synthetic opioid that has led to a massive number of drug overdoses in the U.S. in recent years — has passed the Florida Legislature.

Fentanyl test strips are small pieces of paper capable of detecting whether drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines have been adulterated with that powerful and sometimes deadly drug.

The measure (HB 165) was co-sponsored by Broward County Democrat Christine Hunschofsky and St. Lucie Republican Dana Trabulsky in the Florida House, where it passed unanimously on Wednesday.

A report issued that same day by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention showed that fentanyl-involved drug overdoses more than tripled between 2016 and 2021. In Florida, fentanyl was involved in 6, 417 deaths in 2020, according to the state’s Medical Examiner’s Commission.

Both blue and red states have passed similar legislation, and the Florida Legislature had a chance to pass the measure in the 2022 session but ultimately did not. Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Republican representing Citrus and parts of Marion counties, recalled the reluctance of some lawmakers to OK fentanyl test strips a year ago because “we didn’t want to encourage people to take fentanyl.”

“Well, nobody wants to take fentanyl. Everyone knows it’s deadly,” Massullo said on the House floor Wednesday. “The cartels don’t want to kill people. They want people to be addicted so they can make money off our children and then off the rest of us.”

Palm Beach Democrat Kelly Skidmore found it stunning that legislators opposed decriminalizing fentanyl test strips last year. “It was kind of like, so you would rather let people die moment.”

“Fentanyl test strips don’t make people do drugs. They don’t stop people from doing drugs. They stop people from dying. And that’s the goal,” Hunschofsky said right before the House unanimously approved the measure.

Standing behind Hunschofsky and Trabulsky on the House floor was South Florida Democratic Sen. Tiny Polsky, who sponsored the measure in the Senate. That chamber unanimously passed the measure earlier in the session.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.