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Wichita may remove penalties for possession of fentanyl test strips, some amounts of marijuana

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.

Removing penalties for possession of the test strips and some amounts of marijuana is likely to free up resources at the city’s municipal court, according to those in favor.

The Wichita City Council is beginning to look at removing penalties for possession of marijuana and fentanyl test strips in the city.

The test strips allow users to test substances for fentanyl before unknowingly consuming it. In the state of Kansas, they’re illegal.

Removing penalties for possession of the test strips and some amounts of marijuana is likely to free up resources at the city’s municipal court, according to those in favor.

Currently, police in the city could charge people found in possession of test strips because they’re considered paraphernalia. Wichita Police say they have yet to arrest anyone for possessing the strips.

But removing those penalties could also save lives, according to Council Member Mike Hoheisel.

“Hopefully we can give people chances to actually come out of their addiction as opposed to dying from it. A lot of good people get hooked on this stuff. And … we need to continue to come up with different ways and different treatment programs that are effective in dealing with addiction. But you can't help somebody if they're already dead.”

In the first half of 2021, Kansas was one of the states showing the steepest increase in overdose deaths.

In 2021, the Sedgwick County recorded more than 200 overdose deaths compared to 162 in 2020, according to the Regional Forensic Science Center.

Most of those deaths were among young people.

“Making a dumb choice at a party when you're a teenager shouldn't be a death sentence,” Mayor Brandon Whipple said, “and that's what we're trying to prevent here.”

Some police departments in Kansas have already decided to not charge people in possession of the test strips, including the city of Hutchinson, according to the Hutch Post.

Wichita Police and Sedgwick County patrol officers are now equipped with Narcan, a medicine that can reverse an opioid overdose, due to the amount of overdose calls they respond to.