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Arizona governor signs bill legalizing drug-testing strips

arizona state capitol AP
Posted at 1:42 PM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 08:45:04-04

PHOENIX — Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill into law on Wednesday that legalized fentanyl testing products in an effort to allow “those who use drugs or suffer from addiction to identify drugs that have been laced with the lethal narcotic.”

The bill, SB1486, was signed by the governor on May 18, 2021, one year to the date after Democratic State Senator Christine Marsh, who championed the bill, lost her son, Landon, to an accidental fentanyl overdose.

“To me and my family, just the date of the signing was quite meaningful,” Marsh said. “[It’s] a little glint of peace that this bill will save lives.”

Landon Marsh was 25-years-old when he took a Percocet laced with fentanyl, said Sen. Marsh. She stressed in a previous interview with ABC15 that her son was not an addict, but that made a bad choice that night -- one that ultimately cost him his life.

"He had just gotten married. He was getting his mechanical engineering degree and had a night of what I call 'stupidity' with his childhood best friend," Sen. Marsh told ABC15’s Sonu Wasu in a March 2021 interview.

Her goal was to exclude “specified narcotic drug testing products from the definition of drug paraphernalia.” And until two days ago, fentanyl testing kits were considered illegal drug paraphernalia in Arizona.

She hopes to save the lives of those who experiment with or are addicted to drugs.

“We have to get that hammered into parents and young people that nothing is safe,” Sen. Marsh said.

Drug dealers connecting with kids on social media

Like Naloxone, or Narcan, was legalized for community distribution a few years ago, she hopes the testing strips will eventually be sold at local pharmacies.

Governor Ducey declared an opioid emergency in Arizona in June of 2017 after the state saw a 74% increase in the number of drug-related deaths between 2012 and 2017.

One year after the state began tracking opioid-related deaths, the data showed fentanyl was responsible for 18% of “verified opioid overdoses,” according to a 2018 Opioid Response Summary provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The state’s data showed that 38% of recorded fentanyl-related overdoses in Arizona result in death. By comparison, 16% of recorded heroin overdoses resulted in fatalities.

It is also common to find fentanyl laced into other drugs.

In 2017, fentanyl was found in 8.9% of drug overdoses involving more than one opioid. The data collected so far in 2021 shows, fentanyl has been found in 46.4% of overdoses involving more than one substance.

Arizona is not alone in seeing an increase in opioid overdoses.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the United States saw the largest number of drug overdoses resulting in death ever recorded between June 2019 and May 2020: approximately 81,230 drug overdose deaths.

Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, “are the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths,” according to the CDC.

“Fentanyl is in everything and that [was] my son's case,” Sen. Marsh said. “[He] took what, you know, he thought was a Percocet. It ended up having fentanyl in it and it killed him. And now since I've been running this bill, I'm hearing from a soul-crushing number of parents who have a similar story.”

“If nothing else,” Marsh said, “I want these [fentanyl testing] strips to raise the awareness that even one pill is too many. That those days of experimentation, they are over. A single pill these days is far too often resulting in a death sentence.”

Here are some alarming statistics released by NotMYKid when it comes to drug use in Arizona:

  • 1,752 overdose deaths were reported in Maricopa County in 2020, with another 550 cases under investigation.
  • That number is nearly double the total of overdose deaths in Maricopa County in 2019, which was 1,078.
  • Nearly 80% of kids in Arizona who are misusing prescription drugs get them from friends, family, or right out of the home.
  • 57% of Arizona teens say their parents have never talked with them about ways to turn down or avoid drugs.