Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Wednesday legalizing test strips that can detect the presence of the potent opiate fentanyl and potentially help avoid deadly overdoses

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation on Tuesday that will help prevent fentanyl overdoses by excluding testing products from the list of illegal drug paraphernalia. This will give access to testing products for people who use drugs or suffer from addiction to identify drugs that have been laced with fentanyl. 

As deaths from fentanyl continue to rise, the drug is now considered to have contributed to the most overdose deaths in Arizona. According to the Governor's Office, it accounts for 522 of the 1,106 overdose deaths in the state in 2018. 

“Drug use claims far too many lives each year,” Ducey said. “We want everyone who is using drugs to seek professional treatment. But until someone is ready to get help, we need to make sure they have the tools necessary to prevent a lethal overdose. Sen. Christine Marsh lost her son to an overdose last year, and she took the lead on today’s legislation to protect those who are taking drugs from fentanyl overdoses. My heart goes out to her for her strength and commitment to protecting other Arizona families. Thank you, Sen. Marsh.”

Ducey signed Senate Bill 1486, which was spearheaded by Marsh following the death of her son. The testing products made legal by the legislation can detect even very small amounts of fentanyl, which can be deadly. The testing kits can be used on heroin and other drugs that may have been laced with fentanyl. 

“No one should have to suffer the loss of their loved one to addiction or accidental overdose,” Marsh said. “Illegal drug use can be extremely dangerous, and with the prevalence of fentanyl being laced into other drugs, it can be deadly. We have to make sure families and young Arizonans have the resources needed to prevent a lethal fentanyl overdose, and this legislation will provide an additional tool. I am grateful to everyone who supported Senate Bill 1486.”

We spoke with the Estil Wallace, the Founder and CEO of Cornerstone Healing Center. Wallace says Fentanyl is everywhere, and it's lethal. “Fentanyl is killing people right and left. If you are under 50 years old, it is the number one way you will die; that’s terrifying,” he said.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that will make it legal for groups to hand out clean drug supplies to heroin addicts. It’s about preventing diseases from spreading in the valley which is causing healthcare costs to soar.

Senator Nancy Barto, who sponsored the bill, said there is a Hepatitis C epidemic in Arizona with infections have increased by 40% in the last five years. She said she is grateful Arizona is set to turn the tide by allowing overdose prevention programs in the state. “The truth is people are going to shoot dope anyway whether we have these exchanges or not," she said.

"In many ways it’s reducing the harm that is inflicted on the community by intervenes drug use,” said Wallace.

Whether it’s heroin or fentanyl, it’s an epidemic, and addiction experts believe these bills will not only save the state money, but more importantly, save lives. “Parents need to know that one pill is too many. You know, so many of us grew up in the age of experimentation. Whether we like it or not, kids and teenagers’ experiment and parents need to know that that is not an option. That is a potential death sentence."

Marsh says she hopes the strips will be widely available at drug stores and at harm reduction organizations where people who are struggling with drugs can also get help.

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