By Debra MuléNassau County Legislator
Nassau County should be deploying every proven resource at our disposal to prevent overdoses, promote recovery and save lives in its battle against opioid addiction. Unfortunately, it appears partisan politics and fear mongering have reared their ugly heads once again in Nassau County.
In response to the spike in overdose deaths caused by drugs tainted with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, my colleagues and I unveiled legislation this June that would require low-cost fentanyl testing strips to be included in every Narcan kit distributed by a county agency. However, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and our colleagues in the Republican majority refused to take any action on the measure. They have claimed that the strips are not effective enough, that distributing these tools will somehow expose the county to litigation, and that they may even promote illicit drug use. None of these fears have been reflected in the experiences of municipalities who have distributed fentanyl testing strips.
Right here in Nassau, there is ample legal precedent for the distribution of potentially life-saving tools, such as free Narcan kits, COVID-19 tests and life jackets without fear of an avalanche of litigation. Like all those resources, the test strips are not foolproof. However, studies performed by Brown University and John Hopkins University have proven that fentanyl testing strips effectively detect the presence of this deadly synthetic drug.
And despite what some might say, no - fentanyl testing strips do not promote drug use. The drug abuse and addictions were already present - in many cases, the disease was fostered by unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies that flooded the market with products that continue to devastate families. Providing fentanyl testing strips is a harm-reduction strategy that seeks to prevent accidental overdoses and gives individuals who are struggling a chance to one day embark upon a journey toward long-term, sustainable recovery.
Already, a bipartisan constellation of states, such as Alaska, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, Utah, and Washington, are either directly providing or promoting the distribution of fentanyl testing strips. Closer to home, Suffolk County and New York City have adopted similar measures as part of their ongoing efforts to prevent their constituents from becoming the latest casualties in the addiction epidemic.
We must attack the opioid crisis from every angle, and we cannot afford to let politics get in the way of can achieving our shared mission. Because of the tens of millions of dollars Nassau is receiving in settlements from its lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, we have ample resources at our disposal to fund this effort. While these tiny, inexpensive strips may just be a small step toward reaching our goal, they are emblematic of our struggles as a community and our desire to do anything possible to save our loved ones from the grips of addiction.
Debra Mulé, of Freeport, was first elected to the Nassau County Legislature in 2017. She represents the 5th Legislative District in the Nassau County Legislature.