HARRISBURG – The state House Wednesday approved legislation introduced by Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33) that could save lives by expanding fentanyl and xylazine testing in Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania communities and families are being torn apart by a fentanyl poisoning epidemic,” Mastriano said. “We have an opportunity to enact a law to save lives. Testing for fentanyl can mean the difference between life and death for someone who has unknowingly been poisoned with it.”
Fentanyl is the No. 1 cause of death for Americans ages 18-45. Xylazine is a lethal tranquilizer that is increasingly being mixed with other illegal drugs – including methamphetamines, cocaine and counterfeit drugs such as Xanax – leading to additional overdose deaths.
Mastriano’s Senate Bill 683 would require general acute care hospitals to test for fentanyl and xylazine when treating a person who is receiving a standard, five-panel urine drug screening in an emergency room setting. A regular opioid test does not test for fentanyl and xylazine.
A recent Epic Research study showed only 5% of toxicology screens currently test overdose patients for Fentanyl. The percentage is even smaller for xylazine testing.
Rapid fentanyl and xylazine testing already exists. Three low-cost reagents have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that can be used with a chemical analyzer to determine if an individual has either drug in his or her system. Hospitals without chemical analyzer equipment can use widely available testing strips.
“The ability to know if a person has fentanyl or xylazine in his or her system could save that person’s life,” Mastriano said. “The tests are available and effective, so we need to make sure they’re being used to prevent poisoning overdoses. These tests can provide health care professionals with the information they need to treat people poisoned with fentanyl and xylazine.”
Fentanyl and xylazine testing can alert the patient, doctor, provider or parents of the patient about the dangerous situation and prompt a prescription for naloxone.
Testing can save additional lives by motivating the patient to dispose of counterfeit pills and alert friends who also may be using them. It also can lead patients to connect with drug abuse treatment options.
Testing enhances public safety by helping law enforcement in the apprehension and prosecution of drug dealers, and generating more accurate information about overdoses, which can be used to shape public policy.
Laws containing provisions similar to those in Senate Bill 683 recently were enacted in California and Maryland.
Included in Senate Bill 683 is language which will require the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to distribute informational materials regarding the grave health risks associated with xylazine use.
After wide bipartisan support in the Senate and House, Mastriano’s bill will now be presented to the governor to be signed into law.
VIDEO: During comments he delivered Wednesday in the Senate, Mastriano shared the story of Tyler Shamash, a 19-year-old man taken to the emergency room in 2018 and given a standard toxicology screen that failed to detect the fentanyl in his system. Tyler died the next day due to a fentanyl overdose.
Media contact: Josh Herman