Bill legalizing fentanyl testing strips passes House committee

By: - January 25, 2023 2:33 pm
Aerial photo of the Capitol building in Pierre. (Getty Images)

Aerial photo of the Capitol building in Pierre. (Getty Images)

A bill that would decriminalize fentanyl test strips in South Dakota passed the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday with a 11-2 vote.

Fentanyl test strips are small bits of paper that can detect the presence of the synthetic opioid, which is sometimes laced with other drugs and has a high mortality rate. Under current law, the test strips fall under the definition of drug paraphernalia, which includes any equipment designed to test or analyze controlled substances. 

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, R-Sioux Falls, said decriminalizing the strips would save lives across the state. Rehfeldt sits on the state Opioid Abuse Advisory Committee.

If passed, South Dakota would join over 30 other states that have decriminalized or legalized fentanyl test strips. Several proponents testified in the committee meeting. No opponents testified.

“I have overdosed on drugs countless times … I lost a brother to opioids, friends, colleagues and community members to this preventable disease,” said Edward Krumpotich with the National Harm Reduction Coalition, calling the bill and fentanyl test strips a “common sense solution.”

Fentanyl has grown to be one of the top causes of drug related deaths in South Dakota, killing 29 people in 2021 — about 28% of all drug related deaths. Several illegally sold drugs can be laced with deadly amounts of the drug, which was originally used for medical treatment and pain relief.

Chart shows the rise of drug related deaths in South Dakota between 2011 and 2021. 104 South Dakotans died from drugs in 2021: 52 from meth and 29 from fentanyl.
Fentanyl was the cause of 29 drug overdose deaths in South Dakota in 2021 — about 28% of all drug overdose deaths. (Courtesy of the South Dakota Department of Health)

Decriminalizing test strips would allow addicts to test drugs before use or allow family members and treatment services to carry the strips on hand in case of overdose, proponents said. One of the bill’s proponents was Angela Kennecke, former KELO-TV journalist and founder of addiction and recovery nonprofit Emily’s Hope.

Kennecke’s daughter, Emily, overdosed on fentanyl in 2018 after she unknowingly used a drug laced with it. Had test strips been widely available, she said she might have been able to get her daughter help.

“There is nothing worse than the loss of a child or loved one in this way,” Kennecke said. “Emily’s Hope wants to distribute fentanyl strips — a simple, low cost tool that will save lives.”

Rehfeldt said test strips act as drug use education and harm reduction, which include strategies to reduce consequences of drug use. She added that people are more likely to seek treatment if they use the test strips.

The strips cost $1.99 per strip online or $149 for 100.

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Makenzie Huber
Makenzie Huber

Makenzie Huber is a lifelong South Dakotan whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent five years as a journalist with experience reporting on workforce, development and business issues within the state.