Scranton aims to reduce OD deaths, considers decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — There is an effort in Lackawanna County to address the growing number of drug overdose deaths.

The D.A.’s office reports that fentanyl was involved in 92 percent of this year’s overdose deaths. The city of Scranton is considering decriminalizing possession and distribution of fentanyl test strips as a way to save lives.

City council discussed the proposed ordinance at the meeting Tuesday night. To be clear, this ordinance is talking about fentanyl test strips, not fentanyl in general. It’s supposed to be a harm reduction measure, but council decided to table the issue. This is why…

Tuesday night, Scranton City Council read a proposed ordinance from the mayor’s office. It would implement a new policy for the city and Scranton police to not arrest people for possessing or distributing fentanyl test strips for harm reduction purposes.

It’s an approach Mayor Paige Cognetti’s administration claims will save lives. The legislation states the city has a major problem with fentanyl-related overdoses and presents fentanyl test strips as an effective public health intervention.

The idea is if people can tell if the deadly fentanyl is present, it will prevent unnecessary deaths. Thomas Coyne of Scranton spoke up during public comment.

“These safety measures are a good idea, but we have to take the steps responsible and that is done by executive edict, not by anything else because there is no authority to override,” Coyne said.

Another resident, Darwin Shaw, disagreed, suggesting it was like putting a Band-Aid on the problem.

“That is not helping anybody kick any type of drug or anything. I would like to see council sit down with the mayor and talk about if they can establish something with mental health, help that individual mentally kick that drug and give them the support they need,” Shaw said.

Council supports the purpose of the ordinance, but they were concerned with whether an ordinance was the proper way to go about it. It contradicts state law. The fentanyl test strips are still illegal in Pennsylvania and considered drug paraphernalia.

“I think if one life is saved by this measure, the whole thing will be worth it, however council cannot do things that are not procedurally correct,” City Council president Bill Gaughan said.

Council decided to table the ordinance but decriminalizing fentanyl test strips is still possible with an executive order from the mayor’s office for example.

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