Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips

grygielny Harm Reduction

Last year, to combat the devastating effects of illicit fentanyl, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced federal funding could be used for a simple, yet critical, overdose prevention tool: fentanyl test strips. 

Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are disposable, single-use tests that can detect the presence of fentanyl or fentanyl analogs in a substance. 

In a 2018 study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers conducted interviews with 335 people who use drugs in Baltimore, Boston, and Providence. Of those surveyed 85% desired to know about the presence of fentanyl before using drugs, and 89% agreed that drug checking would make them feel better about protecting themselves from an overdose. Perhaps most importantly, 70% of respondents reported that knowing that their drugs contained fentanyl would lead them to modify their behavior. 

This small shift could have outsized positive effects. We know fentanyl test strips are easy to use, inexpensive, and can lead to more care when using drugs which can, in turn, lead to fewer fentanyl-related overdose deaths. 

But under outdated drug paraphernalia laws, fentanyl test strips remain illegal in nearly half of U.S. states.

“We hope all the states would come to realize the dangers of contamination are so high and that fentanyl test strips empower a person taking drugs to know whether they have fentanyl,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

The movement to legalize fentanyl test strips is growing. In the past year alone, Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin have made legislative moves to remove fentanyl test strips from their paraphernalia laws.


Costing about $1 each, fentanyl test strips are the most basic level of harm reduction. 


Yet, some states including Florida, Texas, and Kansas, recently had the opportunity to decriminalize fentanyl test strips and balked. A Kansas state senator, Sen. Kellie Warren, who is against the proposal to decriminalize fentanyl test strips in Kansas is quoted as saying, “The best warning to figure out whether (the drug you are using) might have fentanyl in it is don’t buy the illegal drugs.” 

But we know prohibition and abstinence are proven failures as drug policy. 

We know harm reduction works and some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others. 

Fentanyl test strips allow for a safer supply and safer use, which minimizes the harmful effects of fentanyl rather than simply ignoring or condemning it. 

Yet, when given the choice, policymakers in many states are choosing not to respond to the growing number of fentanyl-related overdoses. Or, they are adopting punitive policies for the sale and possession of fentanyl that do little to deter sale or usage but will decrease the likelihood of calling for emergency services in a crisis. Will fentanyl test strips fix the overdose crisis? Certainly not, but they can help save lives now. 

Our founder, Rev. Alexander Sharp said years ago “At its core, our faith is about love. But one cannot love in the abstract. One loves in relationship. We can’t love our neighbor without caring about what happens to our neighbor. Advocacy is a form of caring.”

Loving our neighbors starts with caring and advocating for them.  

It’s time for states to take this small step toward harm reduction and update outdated drug paraphernalia laws. 

Urge your state legislators to choose to save lives instead of simply ignoring or condemning the harmful effects of fentanyl.

Sincerely, 

Clergy for New Drug Policy 

Support the Opening of Overdose Prevention Centers

grygielny Harm Reduction, Take Action

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Blessings to all of you who are observing Holy Week and Passover this week. 

It’s been exciting to jump in with Rev. Sharp and help to identify new opportunities for the CNDP community to make a difference. Faith leaders are a critical voice when it comes to ending the War on Drugs. 

For too long, our society has reduced substance use and substance use disorders to moral failings and responded with punishment and incarceration. We are in desperate need of a compassionate public health approach to drug use. 

First, thanks to all of you who took action to support the Marijuana Opportunity and Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The bill has passed the House! 

As you might know, the Senate will be the big challenge for this legislation. But, this historic House vote continues to demonstrate that the tide is turning against cannabis prohibition. 

Second, we have another action opportunity for you. CNDP has partnered with Faith in Harm Reduction to launch a faith-leaders sign-on letter to support the opening of Overdose Prevention Centers (OPCs) — oftentimes referred to as supervised consumption sites. 

120 OPCs operate in countries across the globe. They are an evidence-based harm-reduction strategy that saves lives, improves health, and reduces the spread of disease. OPCs allow people who use drugs to do so in a medically supervised environment and provide critical services like drug testing and sanitary equipment. 

No one has ever died from an overdose in an OPC. They’ve been studied intensively and shown not to increase drug use or crime in the communities where they operate. 

Tragically, they are still considered illegal under federal law. New York City opened the United State’s first official OPC back in December in a direct challenge to these unjust restrictions. Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland will make a determination as to whether or not the federal government will move to close these centers or allow them to operate. 

Will you make sure that AG Garland hears from faith leaders who support this important work?

Add your name and voice today. 

Sincerely, 

Timothy McMahan King 

Vote YES on The MORE Act Today

grygielny Marijuana Legalization

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

About three weeks ago, I was pleased to announce that Timothy McMahan King had joined Clergy for a New Drug Policy as Senior Fellow. My hope was that together we could expand the capacity of CNDP both to work with other organizations to toward our goal of ending the War on Drugs and also to broaden our advocacy efforts toward this end.

We have now identified the first such opportunity. Specifically, we seek your support of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2021. This bill would declassify marijuana as a controlled substance under federal law. (Currently, cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 substance, defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”)

The MORE Act would also remove the collateral consequences of marijuana arrests such as denial of food stamps and student loan eligibility. It would ensure that individuals could not lose their immigration status for marijuana possession. Finally, it would also provide funding for equity programs seeking to reverse the discriminatory enforcement of our cannabis laws over the past 50 years.  

The decision on how or whether to legalize cannabis would be a state issue. No longer could those opposing cannabis legalization at the state level cite federal law to support their position.

 
I believe this bill would serve as the death knell to marijuana prohibition in this country.


Tim and I ask that you to take action today. Our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance have set up an easy form for you to do so. 

We need your help to cross the finish line so please urge your Representative to vote YES on the MORE Act today.  
 
We expect a vote on this bill in the House of Representatives today. It is essential, therefore, that you act quickly.  

Sincerely, 

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, 
Executive Director, Clergy for a New Drug Policy

Introducing CNDP Senior Fellow Timothy McMahan King

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Uncategorized

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In this season of renewal and looking forward, it is with special pleasure that I introduce to you my colleague and friend, Timothy McMahan King, who is joining Clergy for a New Drug Policy as Senior Fellow. In this role, he will be leading up our communications efforts and advising me on policy and future directions for CNDP.

I have known Tim for many years. We first met when he worked with Sojourners, the national faith-based advocacy group founded by Jim Wallis.  He served on the staff there from 2008 to 2015, most recently as Chief Strategy Officer.  

Tim and I re-connected after I read his 2016 article in Christianity Today telling the story of his recovery from an addiction to opioid painkillers after an extended hospitalization for pancreatitis.  Impressed with this account, I interviewed him here in 2019 and reviewed his book Addiction Nation.  

Tim graduated in 2006 from North Park University, where he majored in philosophy.  In recent years, he has become an increasingly prominent national voice on addiction, drug policy, and the fight to end the so-called War on Drugs.  His writings have appeared at CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and recently the Union Leader.  He is a superb lay preacher as well.  I am pleased to share his most recent sermon

Together, Tim and I serve as board members of the Center of Addiction and Faith, a new organization dedicated to helping clergy and congregations respond to addiction and the opioid crisis with healing and compassion, not stigma and punishment.  Tim was the keynote speaker at the annual CAF conference in November 2021.  

On the policy front, we are already collaborating on two critical measures.  First, we are urging the U.S. Congress to pass the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act.  It is well established that medically assisted treatment, especially the use of buprenorphine, can reduce the risk of overdose up to 50 percent and help individuals struggling with substance abuse to rebuild their lives.  Right now, outdated and unnecessary regulations deny those critically in need access to such treatment. 

Second, as members of the National Marijuana Justice Coalition, we are urging the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would: remove cannabis from the list of “schedule 1” drugs with “high potential for abuse and no medically accepted use,” thereby paving the way for adult recreational use; reinvest cannabis tax dollars back into communities devastated by the War on Drugs, and require that criminal records for past cannabis use be expunged. The House of Representatives must approve this bill again this year for it to be placed before the Senate.  

I am thrilled at the prospect of having Tim as a colleague as CNDP continues its work mobilizing clergy and their congregations to end the War on Drugs and seek a healing not punishment response to drug use.  I expect that under his evolving leadership in the coming year we will be able to extend our national outreach, forge new partnerships, and expand the range of our policy goals.  

Please join me in welcoming Timothy McMahan King in his new role as Senior Fellow of CNDP.

Sincerely, 

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, 
Executive Director, Clergy for a New Drug Policy

A Ray of Light in a Dark Year

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Harm Reduction, NY

Staff at the Washington Heights Overdose Prevention Site

As this unremittingly grim, even dark year, draws to a close, I offer one ray of light in the area of drug policy. For the first time, the United States now has overdose prevention sites up and running. 59 opioid overdoses, most potentially fatal, have been reversed in the first month of operation.

This major breakthrough took place in New York City on November 30. In two locations—Washington Heights and East Harlem–individuals struggling with substance use now can inject drugs under medical supervision, rather than doing so alone, often in dirty alleyways and public bathrooms. 

These sites, soon to be linked in a new organization called OnPoint NYC, offer a variety of other medical services. Drug treatment is available but not required. Individuals can also test their drugs for the highly lethal drug fentanyl and other contaminants, thus protecting themselves from a major cause of overdose deaths. 

Our nation experienced over 100,000 overdose deaths in 2020, with over 2,000 in New York City alone.

The United States has been waiting for too long – far too long – for overdose prevention sites. Over 120 in exist in 10 countries including France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Canada, and Australia. They save lives, result in safer communities, and enjoy the support of law enforcement. 

Two years ago, it appeared that such a site would open in Philadelphia. The mayor, city council, and law enforcement officials were supportive. But the Trump administration’s regional U.S. District Attorney blocked the opening under the so-called crack house law, which bans operating, owning, or renting a location to facilitate the use of illegal drugs. The Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal. 

In New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio began supporting overdose prevention sites in 2018 and has been joined by the district attorneys for Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Harlem. Mayor-elect Eric Adams has also expressed support. 

President Biden recently became the first U.S. president to endorse harm reduction and has proposed over $30 million in federal funding. The U.S. Justice Department has not yet commented on whether it will intervene. City officials have urged Attorney General Merrick Garland not to prosecute operators of sites where local officials have approved them.

These sites are not a new issue for Clergy for New Drug Policy. In 2016, we organized a clergy visit to Insite in Vancouver, at that time only such site in North America. 

We have supported efforts to open sites in other locations. While New York City’s is the first, we were delighted to hear that the Rhode Island state legislature has authorized two pilot programs. The concept also is being intensely debated in cities across the country, including San Francisco, Denver, and Boston. 

Why is this step in the United States such a significant breakthrough? The saved lives are surely important. 600 New Yorkers died of opioid overdose in the first three months of 2021. This number might have been cut by at least 30% had the two new sites been operating. 

More fundamentally, the sites are important because they are the purest expression of harm reduction, in which the focus is on reducing harm to those struggling with substance use rather than insisting on abstinence as the only moral approach. 

Measures such as: testing for contaminants such as fentanyl; sterile syringes; the availability of Naloxone, a drug that almost instantly can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose; and medication for opioid use disorder such as methadone, buprenorphine and other drugs. These measures are increasingly accepted, but they will not help individuals who are dead.  

In their first month, the New York City sites have received strong community support. Their director, Sam Rivera, notes, “We are partnering with the NY Police Department,” as he told a New York City radio audience recently. “They are here at our sites to support us and make sure there are no disruptions to what we are offering. They ask us for paperwork so they can refer people to us who they see are using drugs.”

“The sites really speak for themselves,” commented staff member Kailin See. “They’re not just for people who use drugs, they are also for the communities where they’re located. The community asked for less public injection, fewer improperly discarded syringes on streets and playgrounds, less overdose death, less crime in their neighborhoods.” 

The sites received high praise from an emergency department nurse: “In many cases, departments are overrun and the staff is exhausted. I’ve personally tried to resuscitate patients who — even though emergency services got to them and gave them Narcan – died because it was too late, and we’ve lost those patients.  Anything we can do to decrease the burden on emergency services is really important.”

One New Yorker recalled, “I was a resident of Washington Heights [and] used some of the safe needle exchange services probably 10 years ago. Only because of programs you’re talking about was I able to get clean, stay clean, reintegrate into society, hold a solid job. I hear people saying things like ‘Not in my backyard.’ But you’re right, you are where there is the most need.”

As we close the door on a most difficult and troubling year, may I extend my best wishes for a healthier and happier New Year in 2022. 

Sincerely, 

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, 
Executive Director, Clergy for a New Drug Policy