PITTSBURGH, PA (August 31, 2021) Mayor William Peduto issued an Executive Order today calling to allow the possession and use of fentanyl test strips, a key opioid overdose prevention tool, in the City of Pittsburgh. The Order also directs the City of Pittsburgh Office of Community Health and Safety (OCH&S) to work with city employees and the public to educate them on the benefits of these lifesaving tools and to reduce the stigma associated with possessing them.
Fentanyl test strips have been proven to prevent opioid overdoses and save lives as they allow users to identify the presence of fentanyl in unregulated drugs including injectable drugs, powders and pills. Awareness of fentanyl allows individuals to use appropriate harm reduction strategies to reduce the risk of an overdose.
Fentanyl is an extremely potent opioid that can quickly stop breathing and cause an opioid overdose, which can lead to death. Opioid use disorder is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States and the regional rate of overdose deaths has accelerated faster than national averages, with countywide overdose deaths increasing 22% from 2019 to 2020, with fentanyl present in 77% of those deaths.
According to a recent public service announcement from OCH&S, there have been reports of increased presence of fentanyl in “heroin, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, ecstasy and counterfeit pills such as Percocet and Xanax [in the Greater Pittsburgh area]. While fentanyl has been present in the heroin supply for several years in this region, there are increasing reports of other, non-opioid drugs that have been cut with or contaminated by fentanyl.”
With this executive order, the City of Pittsburgh joins the Pennsylvania Attorney General and Allegheny County District Attorney in adopting a policy to not arrest individuals who possess or distribute fentanyl test strips for harm reduction purposes.
The pandemic has exacerbated mental health conditions, economic stressors and caused individuals to use drugs alone in larger amounts with increased frequency, which are common risk factors for unsafe opioid use. The presence of fentanyl also contributes to deepening racial inequity, with Black men experiencing a 200% increase in overdose deaths from 2019-2020 over the same time period in 2018-2019.
“Fentanyl test strips have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and other expert organizations as a critical tool in preventing opioid-related overdoses and deaths,” said Mayor Peduto. “Other policies have stigmatized drug use, but yet we are still seeing the number of opioid overdoses climbing. I have signed this executive order on International Overdose Awareness Day because if we have the tools to help prevent overdose deaths, it is our responsibility to help healthcare providers, outreach organizations and municipal government get them to our communities.”
A full copy of the executive order is available here.