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Sedgwick County to stop enforcing fentanyl test strip ban

A fentanyl test strip is used to detect fentanyl in a drug sample. Such test strips cost about $1 apiece.
Jesse Costa
/
WBUR
A fentanyl test strip is used to detect fentanyl in a drug sample. Such test strips cost about $1 apiece.

The move comes as the county sees an increase in drug overdoses.

Sedgwick County will no longer prosecute people for possessing fentanyl test strips, Sheriff Jeff Easter said at a town hall Thursday night at Wichita State University.

The strips allow people to check whether recreational drugs contain fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be deadly even in small amounts.

“About every drug that you can imagine, including marijuana, is now being laced with fentanyl,” Easter said.

The strips are considered illegal drug paraphernalia in Kansas; possession is a misdemeanor. Easter said neither his department nor the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office will enforce the law going forward.

The move comes after the Kansas legislature failed to pass a measure decriminalizing the strips last session.

County officials say fentanyl overdose deaths have recently increased, including among teenagers. Law enforcement has seized larger amounts of the drug lately.

“We’re not talking about a pill or two here and there,” Easter said. “We’re talking thousands of pills; 20,000 pills at a time; a pound of pure fentanyl,”

Rena Cole, a licensed addiction counselor at COMCARE of Sedgwick County, said more people are turning to COMCARE’s community crisis center and outpatient addictions unit for fentanyl use treatment.

“We’ve had an increase in crisis calls; people walking in needing services,” she said at the town hall.

Between January 2020 and June 2022, the number of COMCARE drug court participants who met the criteria for opioid use disorder increased 50%, according to Cole.

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.