Kansas Senate committee moves to block use of fentanyl test strips to stem overdose deaths

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Gutted House bill limits authority of KDHE, local officials in health calamities

TOPEKA — The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee reshaped a bill Monday to remove a provision legalizing use of fentanyl strips to help people avoid overdose deaths and to add language degrading authority of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and local officials in public health emergencies.

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The Kansas House voted 121-0 in February to approve the bill dropping fentanyl test strips from the state’s list of prohibited drug paraphernalia. The objective of House Republicans and Democrats was to allow people to determine whether drugs they intended to consume were laced with the potent pharmaceutical fentanyl.

The Kansas Office of Vital Statistics reported 678 drug overdose deaths among Kansas residents in 2021. That was a 42% increase from 2020. Of the 2021 total, an opioid was a contributing cause of death in 428 or two-thirds of fatalities in Kansas.

Sen. Beverly Gossage, the Eudora Republican who chairs the Senate health committee, led her colleagues through a convoluted process of cutting the fentanyl testing reform from House Bill 2390. The GOP-dominated committee also watered down the House’s plan to create a multi-agency state board responsible for studying and recommending solutions to the surge in fentanyl-linked deaths. Instead, the Senate committee said, the KDHE secretary could submit a report on the topic.

“We lose that language completely,” said Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat who objected to the maneuver.

Gossage said a House-Senate negotiating committee could look at the fentanyl test strip issue later in the 2023 legislative session.

“I think it’s too bad we’re not able to tackle that issue,” said Sen. Kristen O’Shea, R-Topeka. “We can’t ever assume something is going to get worked in another place or at a different time.”

The Senate committee’s final adjustment to the bill was to add contents of Senate Bill 6, which was introduced by Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, and was passed by the Senate in February on a vote of 22-18.

Steffen’s goal was to nullify power of the KDHE secretary to issue mandatory health orders in response to disease spread during a pandemic or other health calamity. In addition, the senator intended to block county or city health officers from limiting public gatherings to control spread of infection.

Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, objected to Gossage’s intent to seek quick adoption of the transformed House bill.

“I’m sorry,” Gossage said, “We’re going to have to go on and vote. We have a lot of bills to hear today.”

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“This is an important issue,” Pettey replied.

“We’ll move ahead,” Gossage said.

Steffen’s amendment to House Bill 2390 reflected his objection to the way Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas public health officials dealt with COVID-19. The modified bill was passed by the GOP-led committee, sending the bundled legislation to the full Senate.

“I’d like my ‘no’ vote to be recorded as well as a comment. This is very disappointing,” O’Shea said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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