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Louisiana legalizes Fentanyl test strips hoping to save lives

Louisiana lawmakers passed a law, decriminalizing the use of Fentanyl strips by removing them from the list of illegal drug paraphernalia.

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana has joined a growing number of states that have decriminalized the use of Fentanyl test strips. 

The small strip of paper can save a life. 

It can detect the presence of the powerful synthetic opioid.  

Fentanyl has rapidly become the deadliest drug in the New Orleans area. 

The illegal compound is 50 times stronger than heroine. 

It’s often mixed with cocaine, methamphetamines and counterfeit street pills.  

“We are seeing increasing deaths from Fentanyl. This is truly a life-threatening epidemic,” St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston said. “One pill will kill, so folks need to use every tool they can to reduce that risk.”

Preston said he supports the use of Fentanyl test strips. 

But he cautions, they aren’t foolproof. 

“There are analogs of Fentanyl, Carfentanyl, Acrylfentanyl, each one getting more and more potent and less and less detectable,” Preston said. “The vast majority of the deaths we’ve seen in St. Tammany Parish have come from the parent compound Fentanyl. So, you will miss some, but the majority would still be picked up by a test strip.” 

Louisiana lawmakers passed a law just this summer, decriminalizing the use of Fentanyl strips by removing them from the list of illegal drug paraphernalia.

You can now buy them online for about a dollar a piece on Amazon and other retail sites. 

Some New Orleans bars are now carrying Fentanyl test strips for their customers. J&J Sports Lounge in the Bywater is one of them. 

“Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times that we live in,” bartender Billy Neal said. 

They are trying to do their part to keep people safe,” Neal added. 

“This has been recently happening around various bars around the city and it’s a good thing for everybody. Whatever we can do to help prevent the loss of life.” 

He said as soon as they get the test trips, they're gone. 

“Because people are getting them by the handful. It goes to show how bad the situation is with drug abuse in the public.”  

Dr. Preston fears the test strips won’t save some users. 

“It’s hard to address the behavior of I know this contains Fentanyl and I’m going to take it anyway,” Preston said. “The key is to give as much information (as possible) to the person who’s about to take that risk.” 

Distributing Fentanyl strips is now part of a public health, harm reduction strategy that includes Narcan which can help reverse an overdose and clean needles.  

Drug deaths in New Orleans rose by more than one-third last year and were more than five times the number in 2015.  

According to the Orleans Parish Coroner, Fentanyl was involved in about 94% of the deaths.  

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