Beth, left, and Olivia Weinstock

Beth, left, and Olivia Weinstock 

Gov. Mike DeWine signed a number of criminal justice changes into law Jan. 3, including the decriminalization of fentanyl test strips in a move that advocates say will be a powerful tool in preventing overdoses.

For Bexley resident Beth Weinstock, who lost her son, Eli, to a fentanyl overdose in 2021, decriminalizing the test strips represents a significant change. Weinstock, her daughter, Olivia, and other family members started a nonprofit, BirdieLight, in her son’s memory to prevent fentanyl-related deaths. Weinstock and other members of BirdieLight have been arguing for the decriminalization of the test strips while also educating parents and students about the dangers of fentanyl.

“I think a cultural shift is occurring,” she told the Columbus Jewish News. “People are talking more and more about harm reduction and harm reduction tools, such as fentanyl test strips and naloxone. When we’re speaking of saving lives, these tools are part of that effort – a big part of that effort. The other big segment of the effort is of course, education. But I think the whole conversation including the life-saving harm reduction, tools and education all has to be part of a bigger cultural shift.”

The provision is similar to language in legislation,

House Bill 456, sponsored by former Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, that passed the Ohio House of Representatives.

At the time, Boggs said decriminalization would lead to greater accessibility of the strips, which help determine if any substance is laced with fentanyl.

“With this legislation, fentanyl drug testing strips will be exempt from the definition of drug paraphernalia and these lifesaving strips will be far more readily available,” Boggs said in a news release when her legislation passed the House.

According to The Associated Press, the new state law made numerous other changes, including removing the statute of limitations for attempted aggravated murder, allowing police to stop people solely for holding a cellphone while driving, letting inmates earn more time off prison sentences, outlawing fertility fraud by doctors and mandating age-appropriate education about child sexual abuse prevention in schools.

Meanwhile, federal legislation was signed into law late last year to reduce the impact of fentanyl and other opioids.

The Fighting Emerging Narcotics through Additional Nations to Yield Lasting, or FENTANYL, Results Act was signed into law Dec. 23, 2022, as part of the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, according to a news release. The bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce the impact of opioids was introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. and former Sen. Rob Portman R-Cincinnati.

“With drug overdoses at an all-time high, Congress must do everything it can to stop synthetic opioids like fentanyl from destroying lives in America and around the world,” Portman said in the release. “I’m pleased this bipartisan legislation, designed to help to reduce the devastating effects of these deadly substances, has now been signed into law as part of the FY 2023 NDAA. I look forward to this legislation strengthening State Department data collection on synthetic drug production while increasing international law enforcement capacity – helping to save lives and mitigate the devastating effects of deadly synthetic opioids, which have impacted families and communities all across Ohio and our country.”

The FENTANYL Results Act authorizes two programs in the State Department that will build foreign law enforcement capacity to detect synthetic drugs and implement an international exchange program for drug demand reduction experts, the release said.

“Fentanyl is driving the substance use disorder crisis and making this public health emergency more lethal than ever,” Shaheen said in the release. “We’re seeing it disguised as candy to entice young people, our kids are being targeted over social media and unsuspecting individuals are dying when it shows up laced in other substances. It is a killer and we need to get it out of our communities. That effort needs to start with preventing it from crossing our borders. We know that fentanyl is primarily being trafficked from China and Mexico, so it is paramount that we address this issue globally, which is precisely what the FENTANYL Results Act will do.”