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Fentanyl test strips sitting on top of small circular containers
Dr. Katherine Pannel explains the growing fentanyl crisis in Mississippi and possible solutions to reduce drug overdose deaths via education and harm reduction. “Fentanyl test strips are an inexpensive, easy-to-use method to prevent deaths. Not only do these strips save lives, but they also put drug dealers out of business,” she writes. Photo courtesy Harm Reduction Ohio

Fentanyl Test Strips Do Not Enable Addiction. They Enable Recovery.

Breaking a record is typically a time for celebration. However, in November 2021, we broke a record that no one wanted to celebrate: America hit the 100,000 mark for overdose deaths. Fentanyl was the main culprit of those deaths, making up close to 67%

Sadly, the fentanyl crisis shows no signs of abating in Mississippi. It is difficult, if not impossible, to control the supply coming into the state. We are in a battle to prevent deaths from fentanyl, and we are losing. 

Fentanyl is colorless, tasteless, odorless and so powerful in such a small amount that it’s enough to kill thousands, and it’s easily transported into our state. Fentanyl is also coming in through the mail via the dark web. Efforts to stop the supply from coming into Mississippi have been futile. Therefore, the only way to reduce fentanyl death is to stop the demand through education and harm reduction. 

Education ultimately ends this battle. We have to teach our youth early about the dangers of substance use. But education takes time, and the body count will continue to rise. The only immediate way we prevent deaths and more heartbreaking death records is through harm reduction.

Fentanyl Test Strips Can Save Lives

Fentanyl test strips are an inexpensive, easy-to-use method to prevent deaths. Not only do these strips save lives, but they also put drug dealers out of business. Once a user determines their product has been laced, they do not return to that same dealer, and they let all of those in their circle know not to buy from them, either. Therefore, fentanyl test strips can actually reduce the supply of fentanyl in addition to saving lives.

These strips cost less than a dollar, are easy to use, and are extremely effective at detecting the presence of fentanyl. States can even receive federal funding for these strips, so it costs them nothing. Until recently, these funds could not be accessed in Mississippi because the strips were considered drug paraphernalia. That’s right. Fentanyl strips were against the law and resided in the same category as bongs and pipes. After numerous advocates’ hard work in the state and a multi-year battle, legislation was passed, and on March 13, 2023, Gov. Tate Reeves signed to decriminalize illegal-drug testing kits. This legislation, effective on July 1, 2023, is a huge victory for our state and will save lives. 

Fentanyl Test Strips
This image shows how one variety of fentanyl test strips can work to quickly detect the presence of fentanyl. Photo courtesy of CDC

You cannot turn on the TV, computer or read a paper without reading about another death due to fentanyl. These deaths are occurring in startling numbers in young adults ages 15 to 34, wreaking havoc on college populations. Parents are having to bury their kids instead of attending their graduations. 

Quite frankly, saying you do not want to equip substance users with these strips means you would rather them die. People with substance-use disorders want to get sober and recover, but sometimes it takes multiple tries. Addiction is a vicious disease. Fentanyl strips keep them alive to get them into recovery, and everyone is capable of recovery. We just have to keep them alive to get them there. We cannot get someone into treatment if they are dead. 

There is no evidence to support that fentanyl test strips enable drug use. However, it is a proven fact that fentanyl test strips save lives.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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