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New trends in opioid crisis alarming Lackawanna County officials

The city of Scranton is moving to become the third city in Pennsylvania to decriminalize fentanyl test strips in an effort to combat the opioid crisis.

In Lackawanna County, overdose deaths from pure fentanyl have already doubled since 2020.

District Attorney Mark Powell says drug dealers have cut the price of fentanyl in half, and they're putting it in virtually everything, including marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.

"This is new, this is terrifying, and this is deadly."

Scranton Police Chief Leonard Namiotka says the opioid crisis is "so much worse" than when he started in law enforcement because of the rise of fentanyl. 

"It's pure poison. It could kill you on the first track."

"We've been focused so much on the COVID-19 pandemic that this opioid epidemic has just been able to rage, and the fentanyl crisis has gotten worse," said Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti.

Mayor Cognetti said, at the federal level, "we need better control at our borders. We need to figure out how to stop fentanyl from coming in from abroad." 

But at the local level, Cognetti is proposing legislation that will decriminalize fentanyl test strips, which are considered drug paraphernalia under current state law. The test strips can detect the presence of fentanyl in unregulated drugs.

The city of Scranton would be the third city in Pennsylvania to do so. District Attorney Powell is calling on other municipalities to follow the city's lead.

"These are easy to use, can be purchased online, and will save lives," he said.

The DA is also calling on Governor Wolf to change state law to provide harsher penalties for dealers when an overdose death involves pure fentanyl. 

He disagrees with the Biden administration's move to cut back on some penalties for fentanyl trafficking. 

"I'm not particularly familiar with the specific legislation, but it's not a time to reduce penalties for people who are supplying these drugs," said Powell. "If you're disguising fentanyl as heroin and selling it, we will track you down and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

Mayor Cognetti says she's looking into the best way to fund a program that would make fentanyl test strips accessible, just like the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone. 

If you are in Lackawanna County and need help with drug addiction, go to lackawannarecovery.org or call (800) 662-4357 to find out what resources are available in your area.