Graham Kilmer

Evers Signs Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips

Milwaukee legislators led charge to legalize them as a way to save lives.

By - Mar 16th, 2022 08:16 pm
Fentanyl pills. Photo from the DEA.

Fentanyl pills. Photo from the DEA.

Governor Tony Evers signed legislation Wednesday decriminalizing possession of Fentanyl testing strips.

Until now, these strips or testing kits were considered drug paraphernalia. The drug Fentanyl is currently the leading cause of overdose deaths in the county. It was present in 79% of the 560 overdose deaths in 2021.

The Milwaukee County Division of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Behavioral Health Division (BHD) have been supporting, and patiently waiting for, this change in state law. Both county agencies are involved in substance abuse treatment and prevention.

Mike Lappen, administrator for BHD, noting the irony that this potentially lifesaving tool has until today been illegal, told a committee of the county board Wednesday afternoon, “I’ve been risking myself significantly by having a case of them in my office for a couple of days, waiting to distribute them.”

Shortly after the governor signed the legislation, the county released a statement saying that it had 1,600 testing strips that would be distributed throughout the community. This is a preliminary batch, Lappen told supervisors, “Relatively soon the state will be supplying us with a more significant supply.”

State Representative Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, who is also finishing her last term on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, was one of the policymakers who led the charge for decriminalization of these testing strips at the local and state level, and authored the legislation for the Assembly, along with State Sen. Lena Taylor who authored the senate bill.

In June, 2021 the two women held a press conference outside the county courthouse calling for the Legislature to legalize the test strips, and to publicize a resolution Ortiz-Velez successfully pushed at the county level that gave the call for the legalization the full authority of county government.

“The testing strips will be a valuable tool to help prevent death from overdose,” said DHHS Director Shakita LaGrant-McClain. “I applaud the work of Supervisor Ortiz-Velez to make these strips available and easily accessible to the community.”

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley in a statement also thanked the “champions in the State Assembly and State Senate who fought to legalize fentanyl testing strips.”

“It’s going to take all of us working together to prevent overdoses and make sure that people know there are local resources available to help them,” he said. “I look forward to working with our partners to quickly get these strips into the hands of community members and emergency personnel who need them most.”

The county will begin distributing these strips to the community detox and treatment providers and access points that work with the county, Lappen said. “We have a number of access points, partners, community partners throughout the community.”

Lappen said the county is also working to more widely distribute Narcan, the name brand for the drug Naloxone. It’s an emergency medicine that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

These types of immediate interventions work in concert with the string of community-based resources, like clinics, residential facilities and mobile crisis teams in the county.

“The longer we keep someone alive, the more opportunities we have to engage them in treatment and recovery,” Lappen said.

Categories: Health, MKE County, Weekly

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