TOPEKA, Kan. — A tool that can detect fentanyl in a drug is gaining traction in the Kansas legislature.
The effort to pass the new legislation is because fentanyl test strips are currently illegal in Kansas. They’re considered drug paraphernalia.
The Network for Public Health Law said it’s legal to have fentanyl test strips in at least 30 states and the District of Columbia. Missouri and Kansas are not part of that list.
The KSHB 41 I-Team spoke with Libby Davis who lost her son, Cooper, to a fentanyl poisoning in August of 2021.
More than a year later, his picture still brings sadness, but it also reminds her of what she’s been called to do.
“My mission is to be sure that his story lives on and is used for good,” Davis said.
Davis said her son took half of what he thought was a Percocet pill. It turned out to be fake and contained fentanyl.
“Our number one priority from the moment we lost Cooper is saving lives,” Davis said.
In May of 2022, Davis wrote a letter to Kansas lawmakers supporting fentanyl test strips.
“It’s a powerful epidemic and getting worse every day," Davis says. "The magnitude of the problem is growing every day and our response to it needs to adjust."
In this year's State of the State speech, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said she wanted fentanyl test strips to be decriminalized.
State Rep. Jason Probst (D - Hutchinson) believes that helped give the legislation some momentum.
“I think it’s drawn more attention to it," Probst said. "It’s elevated to a level instead of a single legislator kind of pushing for this."
Probst has been trying to get the bill passed for three years. He's used the previous attempts to hone his message for critics of the idea.
“If we’re in the business of trying to make the state better, if we’re in the business of trying to save lives, if we’re in the business of trying to help people, this is something that we can do that’s a really simple tool,” Probst said. “The state doesn’t really have to do anything other than to make a declaration that these are no longer illegal."
To get a better understanding of how fentanyl test strips work, the I-Team went to First Call in Kansas City. It’s an organization that provides services to those impacted by substance use disorders.
First Call's Margaux Guignon said they can only have the test strips for clients post-consumption.
“Post consumption means that you would test basically urine after use to see if fentanyl is showing up in your system,” Guignon said.
Guignon said the organization has only had the fentanyl test strips since the end of last year. With that comes a lot of questions from our community.
“They’re asking kind of the same questions that you are. 'Is it legal to have? How do you use them? Who should have them?'” Guignon says.
“Someone uses drugs then they go to the bathroom into a cup and then what they would do is stick this little test strip inside of the cup with the blue part up,” Guignon said in describing how the test strips are used. “Then you dip it into the urine and then you will get your test result back on the actual strip."
One line means positive for fentanyl. Two lines mean negative.
Local law enforcement agencies like the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department have heard about the legislation. They’re staying neutral on the idea.
“I think anything that’s going to save lives, we have to really look at it and evaluate it,” KCKPD Chief of Police Karl Oakman said.
Oakman sees it as a double-edged sword.
“If they have the test strips then it can reduce the amount of overdoses. Unfortunately, fentanyl has caused young people to reconsider Percocets, Dilaudid, hydrocodone, abusing those prescription drugs,” Oakman said. “My fear is if they got the test strip then they’ll go right back to doing it because they can test it. 'Oh there’s no fentanyl, let me go ahead and pop this pill,' and that’s what we want to avoid."
Davis hopes speaking up will change the minds of lawmakers on the fence.
“I just hope it will open their minds to the thought that every life is worth saving,” she said.
Similar legislation has also been filed in Missouri.