Corinne Kaufman of Glen Cove holds a portrait of her 19-year-old...

Corinne Kaufman of Glen Cove holds a portrait of her 19-year-old granddaughter Paige Gibbons, who died after ingesting a small portion of what she believed to be a Percocet pill, at a news conference in Mineola.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau's Democratic legislators on Monday filed a bill that would include fentanyl test strips inside thousands of kits currently distributed throughout the county to prevent opioid drug overdoses. 

Fentanyl strips are small pieces of chemically-treated paper that detect within five minutes the presence of the potentially fatal opioid if it has been added to other drugs. The "Families Against Fentanyl Act" would add them to kits with Narcan, a device that delivers an antidote to reverse an opioid overdose, that are provided to the community through various agencies.

"These strips can find fentanyl in any form of the drug," said Nassau Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), the legislature's minority leader, in announcing the proposal along with six other Democrats. "These are not a silver bullet but it's the only tool we have and it's something we know is going to work." 

Many street drugs including cocaine, ecstasy and those known as "bath salts" have been found to be laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is the leading cause of overdose deaths.

Glen Cove resident Corianne Kaufman, who joined legislators in their announcement, said she believed fentanyl strips would have saved her granddaughter, Paige Gibbons, 19, who died 15 months ago after ingesting what she thought was a Percocet pill but was later determined to be fentanyl.

"People who die from drugs can be first-time users, and others have addiction issues. We're desperate to fund programs in Nassau County that will help with both problems," Kaufman said as she held a portrait of her late granddaughter.  

DeRiggi-Whitton said the strips cost $1 each and the proposal requests 10,000. 

The legislation stalled when it was filed two years ago. The refiled bill would need a committee hearing and vote by the full legislature to become law.

Republicans hold a 12-7 majority on the legislature. Mary Studdert, spokeswoman for the Republican majority, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Presiding Officer Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said he had not yet reviewed the bill. 

Nassau's Democratic caucus has repeatedly urged Republican County Executive Bruce Blakeman's administration to more quickly distribute funds from the county's portion of the state's 2022 settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Of the $92.5 million Nassau has received, Blakeman has pledged $60 million over the next four years to drug prevention, education and treatment. 

Blakeman said the county has awarded $13.8 million to date. Democrats said the number is closer to $6.7 million, citing the county's integrated financial system records as of last Thursday.

Blakeman did not take a position on the fentanyl bill. Test strips are available at Nassau University Medical Center and the county's Health and Human Services departments, Blakeman spokesman Chris Boyle said.

In a statement, Blakeman said his administration is “always trying to make a safer environment for our kids" and "one death is one too many." He said he was open to partnering with a free, state-run program to make the strips more accessible.

Asked about the distribution pace of opioid settlement funding, Blakeman said his administration "will continue to fund worthwhile projects that will provide immediate results rather than waste precious funds on projects and programs that are not proven.”

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