I will be dropping my daughter off for her freshman year of college in less than two weeks. I am a quivering, gelatinous mass of maternal angst. But I, along with the rest of California, got an assist this week from our lawmakers that will help ease (some of) my fears — and may help keep kids like my daughter alive.
On Monday, Aug. 29, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill by Assemblymember Laurie Davies, R-Laguna Niguel, legalizing the possession of those funky kits that test pills et al. for the presence of deadly fentanyl, as well as strips that screen drinks for “date rape” drugs like ketamine and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid.
Until now, they fell under the definition of “illegal drug paraphernalia” and were officially verboten in the Golden State.
The new law, Assembly Bill 1598, “is an innovative step in California’s ongoing battle to rid our neighborhoods of dangerous drugs and actually get addicted users the help they need,” Davies said by email Tuesday during the final, frenetic days of the Legislative session.
“Legalizing testing equipment for drugs like fentanyl or ketamine … can empower parents, school officials and law enforcement to have these products readily available to ensure if there are drugs found, we can prevent accidental overdoses and deaths,” she said.
“This measure is a common-sense approach to improve harm-reduction strategies and certify drugs on our streets are not unknowingly laced with more dangerous chemicals.”
This logical, welcome-to-the-real-world approach acknowledges that some level of drug use is inevitable.
And rather than trying to achieve total abstinence — impossible, as a little experiment called Prohibition clearly illustrated — it seeks to reduce bad outcomes, say our friends at the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health.
“Persuasive evidence” from around the world has shown that harm reduction greatly reduces the morbidity and mortality associated with risky health behaviors, NIH said.
Products like test strips clearly save lives, Davies has said. In 2019, research institute RTI International found that 43% of drug users reconsidered after test strips found fentanyl in pills or powder masquerading as something else.
“We must increase the tools in our tool belt to prevent accidental overdoses and deaths,” she said in analyses of the bill. “One way to do this is to reform our ‘drug paraphernalia’ laws to not criminalize life-saving products and technologies.”
The Orange County Board of Supervisors endorsed Davies’ bill after holding its own hearing on the fentanyl crisis, and supporters included the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, addiction medicine specialists and more than a dozen police and sheriff’s groups.
But alas, this session’s major harm reduction bill — allowing safe injection pilot sites in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco — was vetoed by Newsom (even though, as a candidate in 2018, he said he was “very, very open” to the idea). He worried that they might “induce a world of unintended consequences” — including, some have suggested, providing ammunition to opponents if he pursues higher office.
There’s always next year. There’s an argument to be made that civilized societies don’t let their most vulnerable members do dangerous narcotics on sidewalks and then let them die on the streets.
Meantime, our what-to-bring-to-college list just got longer.
The law is so new that we’re not going to be able to amble into the local drug store (or head shop) and buy test kits immediately, but we expect that’s not terribly far off.
In the meantime, since these kits are legal in many other states, they can be purchased online. I bought 10 fentanyl test strips and 10 date rape drink test strips which should arrive in time to be tucked into the luggage before drop-off day — which will provide me with yet another opportunity to lecture her about how a single pill can pack enough fentanyl to kill, and how she should never drink from a glass that she hasn’t poured herself or one that she left unattended for even a minute.
She’s a good kid. She’s never gotten into real trouble. Her nose curled in disgust every time I tried to order her a glass of champagne on a recent vacation to Paris (where the legal drinking age is 18). It’s not a terrible world. There are so many good people in it. But there are also some wicked ones, and I want her to have every possible tool at her disposal to keep the bad at bay.
Mother = control freak. I realize she may never, ever use these tools — like she’ll probably never, ever use the nifty screaming alarm with special flash feature I bought for her key chain — but she’ll have them. And I think that makes both of us feel better.
Source: Orange County Register