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Polk County Health Department calls on Iowa to legalize fentanyl test strips

Fentanyl test strips are currently illegal in the state of Iowa, as they are considered drug paraphernalia.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Tuesday that creates higher penalties for people who manufacture, deliver or possess controlled substances like fentanyl. 

The harsher stance on fentanyl comes as law enforcement and state agencies are sounding the alarm on the rise of its accidental use. 

Out of all the opioid overdoses last year, 89% involved synthetic opioids, like fentanyl. In 2023, 41 Iowans have died of an opioid overdose.

Local 5 spoke with the Polk County Health Department for what change needs to happen to prevent these deaths. 

According to the Iowa Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy, law enforcement seized over five times the amount of fake pills laced with illicit opioids in 2022 compared to the year before. 

"We've heard from our police department contacts that there has been an increase in the street drug supply of fentanyl being laced in," said Madisun VanGundy, public health communications officer with the Polk County Health Department. "That's dangerous because fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine."

VanGundy says what makes this potency so concerning is how many people are unaware it's in the drug before they ingest it. 

"A majority of overdose deaths we're seeing are accidental," VanGundy said. "People aren't aware that fentanyl is laced in the drugs."

That's why VanGundy says the department ideally would like to see fentanyl test strips get state approval. She says currently they are illegal, as they are deemed drug paraphernalia.

"So if someone is deciding to take a drug, but they have fentanyl test strips if they detect fentanyl is laced in their drug, they might decide to not take the drug or reduce the amount that they're taking or proceed with caution"

VanGundy says the department has been working to push for a statewide approval. 

"Our Board of Supervisors this past year actually started working on a bill to make fentanyl test strips legalized," VanGundy said. "So that is something that is important to the health department because we again, believe that it's a great prevention tool."

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