PHILADELPHIA – Mayor Jim Kenney today signed Executive Order 4-21 making it the City’s policy not to arrest individuals for possessing or distributing fentanyl test trips. This Executive Order reinforces the City’s commitment to saving lives through harm reduction amid the ongoing opioid epidemic.
“We have to use every available method to save lives while combating the opioid crisis,” said Mayor Kenney. “Fentanyl is increasingly a factor in every kind of fatal drug overdose and contributes to nearly all opioid-related deaths in Philadelphia. We gain nothing by penalizing the distribution and use of fentanyl test strips, which are proven to help people assess and reduce their risk of overdose. Fentanyl test strips are a life-saving tool that we encourage people to have, use, and share with others.”
The Philadelphia District Attorney and Pennsylvania Attorney General have publicly announced their own policies of declining to prosecute individuals possessing or distributing fentanyl test strips for harm reduction purposes. The CDC also announced earlier this year that federal funding may be used to purchase rapid fentanyl test strips. The Executive Order signed today represents the City’s agreement with these policies and a further step to support harm reduction strategies.
“I have directed my office to treat addiction as a disease, not a crime, and we will not prosecute individuals for simply possessing fentanyl test strips, which are categorized by the state as drug paraphernalia. These test strips save lives and by distributing them, the city is giving those struggling with substance use disorder a tool to avoid overdosing. Fentanyl is a poison ravaging our neighborhoods and is largely responsible for the dramatic uptick in overdose deaths we have suffered over the past year,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
“Substance use and substance use disorder require a public health approach,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “That’s why we issued a formal policy in March that declines to prosecute people arrested for mere possession or distribution of fentanyl strips, as we’ve also done for the mere possession of buprenorphine, because the first step towards recovery is survival. I’m grateful to the Kenney administration for this important, evidence-based step forward, one that is grounded in science and principles of harm reduction.”
As noted in the Executive Order, fentanyl now contributes to 94 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths and, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, 81 percent of drug overdose deaths overall. Overdose deaths involving fentanyl have increased alarmingly in recent years, from nine deaths in 2012 to 979 in 2020. Fatal overdose rates among Hispanic and non-Hispanic black individuals rose last year, while at the same time fentanyl was increasingly detected across all categories of drug overdose deaths.
Research has shown the distribution and use of fentanyl test distribution to be an effective intervention against fentanyl overdose. In studies, up to 77 percent of individuals whose drugs tested positive for fentanyl took precautions to reduce their risk of overdose.
Along with implementing this new policy, the City is launching a public outreach campaign with information about how and why to test drugs for fentanyl. Additional drug-specific educational cards that advise testing drugs for fentanyl and carrying naloxone can be found here. Ongoing virtual trainings on overdose prevention and the use of fentanyl test strips can be found at www.phillynaloxone.com.
In addition, addiction services are available through the City’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. Individuals seeking support can call Community Behavioral Health’s 24-hour hotline at (888) 545-2600 or the 24-hour crisis line at (215) 685-6440.