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Fentanyl test strips can save lives, but we need legislation



“For the price of just $1, a life can be spared,” said Michael Galipeau of RICARES. “We are tired of dying out here, and for just a dollar, that is one powerful price tag.”

Galipeau was speaking outside the Providence Safety Complex at a press conference to announce H8132, a bill introduced by Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) that would solidify the legality of fentanyl test strips. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is the leading driver of overdose deaths in the state.

The bill would amend the Good Samaritan Act and would “allow distribution and utilization of narcotic testing products to assist persons in determining whether drugs contain toxic substances. Narcotic testing products include, but are not limited to, fentanyl testing strips. This act would also provide persons distributing testing products with protection from civil liability or criminal prosecution.”

“Preventable overdose deaths have taken too many of our neighbors and our young people,” said Regunberg. “Nearly every family in our state has been touched in some way, and we need to take action. Fentanyl is a primary factor in the spike in overdose deaths in recent years, and fentanyl test strips are an effective tool to protect against this dangerous substance. By increasing access to test strips, this legislation will save lives and make our communities safer.”

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“While we still have a long way to go to make death from overdose truly a thing of our past, this is a very large step in the right direction,” offered Galipeau. “Let us work together to create a culture where we embrace our differences and seek sensible ways to address public safety – using methods and tools that we already have in similar arenas to address the challenges we have experienced with overdose.”

RICARES is a grassroots effort focused on creating a socially just community for all Rhode Islanders impacted by substance use. We approach stigma with an intersectional lens and advocate for change.

Haley McKee says she’s a person in long term recovery. “This is public health emergency. People who are living with this disease should have any and all resources available to protect themselves from fatal overdose.”

Haley Cedarholm is representing University of Rhode Island‘s Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). Her group would like to be able to provide drug user’s access to test strips, but cannot afford the liability they may incur under the law. in order to save lives, they need fentanyl testing strips to be included under the Good Samaritan legislation.

Michelle McKinsey is a public health researcher. “I wholeheartedly support this legislation. It is critically important that we have as many public health tools at our disposal as we can amass.”

Some questions from reporters:


The foundation of the proposed legislation is drawn from two recent Rhode Island-based research studies led by a team of professionals, including by Dr Traci Green and Dr Brandon Marshall of the Brown University School of Public Health, which highlighted the benefits of this type of public health intervention.

The studies found that fentanyl test strips:

  • Let people know what are in their substances. Research by Green et al shows that “of all respondents, 85 percent desired to know about the presence of fentanyl before using drugs. Drug checking was viewed as an important means of overdose prevention, with 89 percent agreeing that it would make them feel better about protecting themselves from overdose.”
  • In a second study led by Professor Marshall and published recently in Harm Reduction Journal, the majority of young adults interviewed reported being concerned about fentanyl overdose, and 95 percent wanted to use the rapid testing strips. “This study provides compelling evidence that young people at risk of overdose will be highly willing to use fentanyl testing strips if they are made available,” noted Dr Marshall.
  • Are a cost-effective way to prevent an overdose. The test strips cost about $1 per strip and are sensitive to detect fentanyl in very small doses.
  • Allow for people who use substances to know if they are about to consume fentanyl. This is especially important in Rhode Island, as drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine have been found to contain fentanyl, and those consuming those drugs may not have a tolerance to opioids.
  • Have a range of support from primary care doctors, school nurses, mental health and substance use professionals, hospital emergency departments, law enforcement professionals, first responders, student organizations, legislatures, attorneys, and drug users.
  • Promote a public health and information-based approach to the overdose epidemic, rather than ineffective, punitive measures that perpetuate the failed war on drugs.

Michael Galipeau

Aaron Regunberg

Haley McKee

Haley Cedarholm

Michelle McKinsey

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Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.