The Phoenix Flyer

Measure legalizing fentanyl test strips advances in Florida Senate

By: - February 14, 2023 5:08 pm

Mary Beth Creighton testifies in support of fentanyl test strips in Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting on Feb. 14, 2023 (photo credit: screenshot from the Florida Channel).

Fentanyl test strips — capable of detecting whether drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines have been adulterated with that powerful and sometimes deadly synthetic opioid — would be decriminalized under legislation advancing through the Florida Senate.

Existing Florida law defines these paper strips as drug paraphernalia. Fentanyl, an opioid, is similar to morphine but as much as 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that 6,417 people died of fentanyl overdoses in 2021, an increase from 5,806 in 2020. Those numbers come from Florida’s medical examiners.

Testifying Tuesday before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee was Mary Beth Creighton, whose 31-year-old son, Zach, died in December in West Palm Beach from a lethal dose of fentanyl. Creighton cradled a framed photo of Zach as she spoke.

“One way we can save lives right away is to destigmatize these fentanyl testing strips like 35 other states have done and hope that whether it’s someone like Zach, who had a substance use disorder who was doing very well, slipped, or just some kids who are experimenting for the first time. … It could save a life,” she told the committee.

The measure (SB 164) is sponsored by Boca Raton Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky.

The Florida Senate passed a similar measure in 2022 but it died in the House, something that South Florida Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said was extremely disappointing.

“This would have saved lives had it been in last year’s bill,” said Pizzo. “There’d be people who would be alive today who have died not having this or been in possession of this, had it passed last year.”

“Obviously, this is a problem that’s not going away, a problem that it appears to be getting worse and worse,” said Hernando County Republican Blaise Ingoglia. “The fact that we’re actually having this conversation really saddens me.”

The measure passed in Criminal Justice Committee 8-0. It will now move to the Judiciary Committee. A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Broward County Democrat Christine Hunschofsky.

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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.