Emily Rice Published

Drug Testing Strips Are Legalized In W.Va.

A drug testing kit is seen on a table with a cup of sample.
A fentanyl test strip is used to detect fentanyl in a drug sample.
Jesse Costa/WBUR

A bill to legalize drug test strips was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice Friday.

A drug test strip is a small strip of paper that can detect the presence of cutting agents, like fentanyl, in all different kinds of drugs.

Under previous state code, drug testing strips were considered drug paraphernalia. This means someone who was found in possession of drugs could have been additionally charged for possession of drug paraphernalia if they had drug testing strips.

Senate Bill 269 removes drug testing strips from the state’s list of drug paraphernalia.

Lawmakers passed a similar bill in 2022, exempting testing strips that detect fentanyl from that statute. House Bill 4373 went into effect in June of that year.

Illicit drug users can use test trips to verify their drugs aren’t contaminated with something else more lethal like fentanyl or xylazine.

Proponents of the bill like Iris Sidikman (they/them), harm reduction program director for the Women’s Health Center, say it could save lives.

They said while the fentanyl testing strips have been useful, the newest cutting agent, xylazine – or tranq – is the most requested test strip. Under current state law, it would be illegal for the clinic to distribute xylazine tests.

“The most immediate thing that this legislation would allow is for us to distribute xylazine test strips, which many people have asked me about here at the clinic as part of our Harm Reduction Program, people are interested in them.

Sen. Eric Tarr, a Putnam-R, was the only lawmaker to vote against Senate Bill 269. He said he wants West Virginia to be the last place someone would want to use or sell drugs.

“West Virginia ought to be the absolute worst place in the country to be involved in the drug industry, illicit drug industry,” Tarr said. “This should be the absolute last place in the world do you want to come to do drugs, sell drugs, be busted for drugs. And frankly, for rehab, because our rehab has been an abysmal failure.”

According to a June 2023 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021, the highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving xylazine occurred in Region 3, which includes West Virginia.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.