Senate unanimously approves Honeyford bill to help address fentanyl crisis

According to the state Department of Health, opioid overdose deaths in Washington rose from 2013 through 2020, driven by heroin deaths, and more recently, fentanyl deaths. Deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are now more common than those involving heroin, with the highest death rates and largest increases being seen in rural counties, such as Yakima and Klickitat.

Today, the Senate unanimously approved the first in a series of measures sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford to help address the crisis. Senate Bill 5509 would exclude fentanyl-testing equipment from the definition of drug paraphernalia, helping identify the deadly substance.

“This is about saving lives,” said Honeyford, R-Sunnyside. “Fentanyl is responsible for the growing number of drug deaths in the rural communities I represent. Making sure fentanyl test strips are legal and easily accessible would allow users to check for the potency, amount, or presence of fentanyl in the drugs that users might be taking.

“Some may question allowing addicts to have this tool, but you can’t change a young person’s behavior or help them break their addiction, if they can’t even survive a single, unknown lethal dose of fentanyl-laced drugs. Again, this legislation will save lives.”

Under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, drug paraphernalia means all equipment, products, and materials of any kind that are used to produce, analyze or consume a controlled substance. Anyone caught with drug paraphernalia could be charged with a class I civil infraction. SB 5509 would exclude fentanyl-testing strips from the list of items banned under the law.

“This is a crisis that we must address,” Honeyford explained. “People need to understand the risks of taking drugs, as the first step to improving their lives and becoming productive citizens. I’m glad the Senate spoke so clearly, and with one voice, to say that rescuing our children, friends and neighbors from this crisis is more important than any politics or grandstanding.

“This bill is not the total answer, but it is an important part of the answer, and I encourage our colleagues in the House to move the bill quickly.”

Honeyford is also the sponsor of Senate Bill 5524, which would impose a life sentence for those convicted of committing a controlled substances homicide involving fentanyl-laced drugs, and Senate Bill 5743, designating kratom as a controlled substance. Kratom is an herbal extract that on its own can cause brain swelling and heart attacks but could also be laced with fentanyl. Neither bill advanced prior to the deadline for Senate bills to clear Senate policy committees.

SB 5509 now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.