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NH decriminalizes fentanyl and xylazine test strips

Fentanyl test strips allow people to check their drugs for the presence of the powerful synthetic opioid, which has caused a surge in overdose deaths.
Paul Cuno-Booth
Fentanyl test strips allow people to check their drugs for the presence of the powerful synthetic opioid, which has caused a surge in overdose deaths.

This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletin, an independent local newsroom that allows NHPR and other outlets to republish its reporting.

With Gov. Chris Sununu’s signature last week, New Hampshire has removed fentanyl and xylazine testing equipment from the definition of “drug paraphernalia” in state law.

Several efforts this past legislative session sought to decriminalize what harm reduction advocates call life-saving tools in an increasingly adulterated and contaminated drug market. House Bill 287, which Sununu signed on Aug. 4, will allow the general public to possess testing strips and other materials intended to detect fentanyl and xylazine in a substance.

Of 2022’s 486 confirmed fatal drug deaths in New Hampshire, 410 involved either fentanyl alone or fentanyl combined with other drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

New Hampshire joins more than 30 other states that have legalized fentanyl test strips. In a statement Monday, Frank Knaack, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said the new law is “critical” for the state to continue building “smart harm reduction strategies to make our communities safer and save lives.”

Prior to the state law change, drug testing strips were characterized as “drug paraphernalia,” and someone found with them who wasn’t associated with a syringe exchange program could be charged with a misdemeanor, facing up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,000.

Only syringe exchange programs in New Hampshire were allowed to disseminate strips to people accessing their services. Program participants, who are issued identification cards, were a protected group when it came to possessing testing supplies.

Now possession won’t be limited to those accessing syringe exchange programs. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association encourage the distribution of harm-reduction tools like fentanyl testing strips.

Xylazine is an increasing threat to the Granite State’s drug supply, and testing strips to detect it are newer to the market. A veterinary tranquilizer that isn’t reactive to Narcan, xylazine, also known as “tranq,” can cause severe wounds on people’s bodies.

During testimony this legislative session, Lauren McGinley, executive director of the New Hampshire Harm Reduction Coalition, warned lawmakers about xylazine and other contaminants that “I believe could do more harm than what fentanyl has caused us in the past decade.”

Lawmakers did include a caveat in HB 287 following testimony from law enforcement that removing certain language in state law around paraphernalia packaging and containers could hinder investigators trying to build probable cause in criminal cases.

If testing equipment is found in conjunction with other evidence “forming the basis of a criminal charge involving the manufacturing, possessing with the intent to sell, or compounding,” then it may be considered drug paraphernalia, the new law states.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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