Bills that would legalize fentanyl test strips in Hawaii gain support in legislature


Shane Ersland


Bills that would legalize fentanyl test strips and make them available for use in Hawaii have garnered some support in the state’s legislature.


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Members of the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs discussed House Bill 573 during a meeting on Friday. HB 573 would exclude fentanyl test strips from the definition of drug paraphernalia in the Controlled Substances Act.

Fentanyl test strips can detect the presence of fentanyl in different types of street drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. They remain illegal in 19 states, and possession of them can result in a $500 fine under current state law.

Kat Brady, coordinator for the Community Alliance on Prisons, testified in support of HB 573. She noted that the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced that federal funding could be used to purchase fentanyl test strips in April 2021.

“We definitely support that,” Brady said. “The test strips save lives. Instead of demonizing people who use drugs, we should be looking at it as a public health problem. We must address poverty and mental health in our communities to tackle the many social issues that drive mass incarceration.”

Brady noted that one person dies every 11 days on the Big Island from a drug overdose, often involving fentanyl.

“Experts find it hard to believe that fentanyl test kits are not readily available at local drug stores, health clinics, or nonprofits,” she said.

Angela Melody Young also testified in support of HB 573, noting that fentanyl test strips only cost about $1 apiece, and using them is as simple as taking a COVID-19 test.

“The user dissolves some of the drug they plan to take in water,” Young said. “After the drug is dissolved, the person dips the test strip into the solution for 15 seconds, places it on a flat surface, and waits about two minutes. The strips don’t measure the amount of fentanyl, just that there’s fentanyl in the drug. It is critically important to pass this measure because fentanyl test strips can save lives.”

Nikos Leverenz testified in support of HB 573 on behalf of the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center, which operates a statewide syringe exchange program.

“Fentanyl test strips are a key tool for drug users with our syringe exchange program, which effectively reduced HIV among those injecting drugs for over 30 years,” Leverenz said. “We’ve done so without incident. We’re no longer distributing test strips, but there’s a very real danger of fatal overdose and accidental overdose if people don’t know what’s in their illicit drug supply.”

Senate Bill 671 would also remove fentanyl test strips from Hawaii’s drug paraphernalia list, and it was passed by the chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee on Feb. 6th.

While Leverenz testified in support of HB 573, he noted that he hoped the bill would be expanded to reflect the more expansive provisions included in SB 671, which covers all drug tracking devices.

“While I appreciate the recommendation from Mr. Leverenz to broaden this to include other drug paraphernalia, the title is specific to fentanyl test strips,” Rep. David Tarnas, committee chair, said. “We’re going to stick with that, so I’d like to move this out as is.”

HB 573 passed in the committee unanimously, with one excused voter. It will now be scheduled for a vote by the entire chamber.