FRANKFORT, Ky. — Parker Rion of Shelby County was funny, energetic and full of life, said his aunt Sydney Romo, who testified before Kentucky lawmakers Wednesday. Last March, he took a pill to go to sleep and never woke up, she told them.
“That pill contained a lethal dose of fentanyl,” said Romo, weeping. “Parker was only 17-years-old.”
A bipartisan bill to help reduce overdoses passed the House judiciary committee unanimously Wednesday.
Under House Bill 353, certain testing equipment used to determine if a substance has something deadly in it — including fentanyl test strips — would not be considered drug paraphernalia.
The bill also requires the state to conduct a fentanyl education and awareness campaign.
“Had Parker been educated about the facts of fentanyl and had testing strips in his possession, he would have maybe have, that would have changed his opinion on taking that pill that night,” said Romo.
A state report shows that in 2021, 2,250 people in Kentucky died of a drug overdose, with fentanyl involved nearly 73% of the time.
Chief Dustin Bowman of the Frankfort Police Department, who supports the bill, said his department responds to overdoses “sometimes daily.”
“I know there has been as many as eight or nine that we’ve responded to in a one or two-day span,” he told Spectrum News 1. “You always want to try to find a way to offer (a) helpful option, as opposed to do anything that creates more harm and creates a bigger challenge for them to overcome.”
The Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition has been handing out fentanyl test strips since 2021 through federal funds that state officials say allow for the purchase of the strips.
The Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition, which backed the bill, released a statement, saying in part: “The paraphernalia designation has dissuaded public agencies and groups involved in the recovery space from purchasing and distributing strips for fear possessing them could put them in legal trouble.”
Jennifer Hancock, president & CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-states, which is part of the coalition, said, “Test strips and a strong education campaign are evidenced-based practices that can help stem the tide of deaths by fentanyl. We can’t put people on the road to recovery if they’re dead.”
The bill moves next to the House floor for consideration.