Within days following a national Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warning that during 2021 alone it had seized enough fentanyl to give a lethal dose to every American, the Suffolk County Legislature, this week, approved a plan to make fentanyl detection strips more readily available to residents, thus helping to prevent overdoses. Through legislation sponsored by Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will soon be required to include fentanyl test strips with naloxone kits distributed during Department trainings on how to use the opioid antidote. Increasing access to fentanyl detection strips will enable recipients to test drug doses for the presence of this deadly synthetic substance prior to using the drugs tested.
“Opioids kill, that is why I pushed for the County to become certified to provide naloxone trainings that put this life-saving antidote in more hands; fentanyl kills, that is why I am pushing for increased access to test strips, which will give this life-saving tool greater reach,” said Legislator Hahn. “Allowing users the ability to know if they are about to put a drug in their body that also contains fentanyl will save lives and begin to reduce the increasing overdose deaths devastating our community.”
“The Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD) commends Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn and Suffolk County government for addressing the tragic realities of the duel pandemic of the opioid crisis fueled by fear and anxieties of COVID-19 by providing the need for wide spread harm reduction measures to reduce the number of fatal opioid overdoses,” said its Executive Director Steve Chassman, LCSW, CASAC. “The distribution of fentanyl test strips and continued widespread distribution of naloxone (narcan) meets this public health challenge head on with the sole and primary objective of saving lives in Suffolk County. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures to aid so many individuals and families struggling with opioid use disorder."
The approved bill now goes to County Executive Steve Bellone for his signature within the next 15 days. Once implemented, the Department of Health will begin including fentanyl test strips with the doses of naloxone it already provides to individuals who complete trainings provided to the public on an ongoing basis.
Deaths attributed to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that according to the Nation Institutes of Health is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, have been steadily rising since 2013. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013,” the last year for which complete data is available. The agency goes on to report, “provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The link between fentanyl and increasing overdose deaths also concerned the DEA, which in September issued its first Public Safety Alert in six years to warn the public about the alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fake prescription pills in the United States that often contain deadly doses of fentanyl. In its advisory, the DEA reported it had “determined that four out of ten DEA-tested fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contain at least two milligrams of fentanyl—an amount that is considered to be a lethal dose.”
“What we are offering through this new policy is a harm reduction strategy,” Legislator Hahn continued. “Addiction is a disease that must not be allowed to become a death sentence, which, as more and more fentanyl has been released into our communities, it has become for many who might otherwise have recovered if given a chance.”
Described as an epidemic, the opioid crisis that has taken the lives of thousands of our neighbors across the region has also contributed to billions of dollars in damage to Long Island's economy according to a 2019 report issued by the Fiscal Policy Institute in collaboration with Long Island Community Foundation and the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation. These devastating impacts on every aspect of our society are what inspired Legislator Hahn to focus on this issue since beginning her service with the Legislature in 2012. During her first year in office, she passed legislation to equip county police with Narcan nasal spray and train civilians to carry Narcan and use it to save lives, a move that has been credited with reviving and saving thousands of lives according to SCPD data. Next, she authored legislation to address the treatment needs of those who had been saved by Narcan interventions. In addition, knowing that addiction often starts with sports injuries, Hahn spearheaded an initiative working with addiction experts and area schools to develop a training program for coaches designed to equip them to address drug addiction risks among student athletes. She has also led efforts to increase compassion fatigue training for first responders and to create Emergency Room protocols for overdose cases. In November, Legislator Hahn was able to restrict the County’s use of opioid-related lawsuit settlement funds exclusively to fighting substance abuse. Legislator Hahn will continue to find ways to advance the fight to end opioid addiction in Suffolk County.
Photo: "White House Opioid Memorial Visit" by U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)