On May 6, the City Council voted to decriminalize fentanyl test strips, a measure that will allow people who use drugs to test their supply, offering crucial information for safer use toward overdose prevention. Decriminalizing test strips also opens the door for using public funding to address this public health issue. Louisiana saw steep increases in overdose deaths in 2019 and 2020. District Attorney Jason Williams announced recently that his office will decline to prosecute drug charges except heroin and fentanyl, a move that only increases stigma and risk level for people who use opioids or any substance that may contain fentanyl. Local volunteer-based harm reduction groups have been working for years to offset such state-sponsored stigma and provide safer use supplies and the overdose reversal medication Narcan (naloxone). The following are excerpts from the 52 public comments submitted, all of which were in favor of decriminalization.
People do drugs. People will always do drugs. That is just a fact of life. You cannot stop people from doing drugs and they will do drugs whether or not there are safety measures available to them… Refusing access to these life saving treatments is the city basically saying those who choose to do drugs deserve death as a punishment.11 Arvind A.
The reality is that this is a public health measure—these strips help us to prevent death in our communities, and we should be thinking of ways to keep our communities safe that don’t rely on criminalizing life saving tools for people who use drugs. The reality is that people use drugs—whether or not fentanyl test strips are criminalized. If we know they are using these drugs, then our responsibility to them as neighbors is to make sure they are using them as safely as they can.22 Anagha N.
Treating people who use drugs with dignity and respect, giving them the tools they need to take care of themselves, is a more effective solution to the so-called “opioid crisis” than criminalizing drugs and the people who use them… What you should not be doing is criminalizing drugs and scapegoating people who use drugs for the widespread structural issues of our city. We need to lead with compassion, understanding, and humanity—and the data shows that.33 Terra T.
Fentanyl testing is an incredibly easy, low-cost way to save countless lives; it is simply an information gathering measure that allows people to ascertain levels of risk… We shouldn’t limit people’s right to information as they try to protect themselves.44 Abigail C.
The possession of drugs and paraphernalia should not be criminalized. Period. Pass that on to Jason Williams, please.55 Hope P.
Decrim is the only way!66 Caitlin B.
My son died of an accidental opioid overdose. Please legalize fentanyl test strips. This will give folks legal access to an essential tool for avoiding opioid/fentanyl overdose. Every human life is worth saving. Denying legal access to fentanyl test strips will mean that amazing, kind, creative, people like my only child will continue to die needlessly.77 Charly B.
Is there anything more powerful, more beautiful, more important than helping the people we love stay alive?88 Foster N.
Follow instructions at council.nola.gov to submit public comments. Tell your neighbors and friends how to do it. Interested in reading all comments after a meeting? You can email your councilmember or file a public records request.
illustration by Sadie Wiese