Harrisburg, PA - Today, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith virtually joined State Representative Dan Miller, Prevention Point Pittsburgh, stakeholders, and advocates to discuss illicit fentanyl in Allegheny County and across Pennsylvania, and the importance of harm reduction strategies.
The virtual panel discussion included information on what fentanyl is, the difference between medical and illegal fentanyl, where it comes from, how it is being used, how it impacts lives and treatment, and strategies to save lives.
“Fentanyl is undetectable through sight, taste, and smell. Unless a drug is tested with a fentanyl test strip, it is nearly impossible for an individual to know if it has been laced with fentanyl,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “That’s why, as an administration, we will continue to advocate for harm reduction strategies, including the legalization of fentanyl test strips, to ensure that individuals are able to make a choice on the substances they are using. Because that choice could just save their life.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 75% of the 5,089 overdose deaths statewide in 2020 involved fentanyl. In Allegheny County specifically, 85% of the 683 overdose deaths in 2020 involved fentanyl. To thwart the increased prevalence of fentanyl across the commonwealth, DDAP supports pending legislation, HB 1393 and SB 845 to legalize fentanyl test strips for personal use.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, nearly 100 times more potent than morphine. In the medical setting, fentanyl can be used to treat patients with chronic pain, such as pain associated with advanced cancer or severe pain following surgery. Illicit fentanyl, on the other hand, is primarily manufactured outside of the United States, illegally brought into the U.S. and distributed and sold on the illegal drug market. It is sold as powders, nasal sprays, and pills that are made to look like prescription opioids. Fentanyl is being mixed with other illicit drugs, primarily heroin, to increase its potency. Mixing fentanyl with other drugs – heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine – increases the likelihood of its use leading to a fatal overdose.
“By enacting harm reduction policies like fentanyl test strips, syringe services programs, and expanding access to naloxone, we can meet people who are actively using drugs where they are,” said Smith. “Fentanyl test strips are inexpensive and may very well be the difference between life or death. Legalizing them would be one more tool at our disposal in our management of the addiction crisis.”
There are numerous ways that Pennsylvanians can access life-saving naloxone. Since 2014, Pennsylvania’s Physician General signed standing orders allowing members of the general public and first responders to obtain naloxone from their local pharmacy. More recently, Pennsylvania partnered with Prevention Point Pittsburgh and NEXT Distro to support a statewide mail-based naloxone program for individuals to request medication for personal use.
Harm reduction is a proven public health approach that minimizes the negative consequences of drug use, saves lives, improves health outcomes, and strengthens families and communities. This approach recognizes that there will always be individuals using and misusing legal and illegal drugs and addresses the conditions of their use.
To learn more about DDAP’s efforts in combating the addiction crisis, visit ddap.pa.gov.
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