SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (IRN) — State lawmakers are pushing for more awareness and resources to address the dangers of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent and can harm someone just by the touch. The precursors for the drug have origins in China and have been found to be trafficked across the United States’ southern border with Mexico. 

On Thursday, Illinois House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, discussed two measures that address the fentanyl issue in Illinois. 

“The first is [House Bill 3203], which allows pharmacies and retailers to sell potentially life-saving fentanyl testing strips,” McCombie said. “This bill will help save lives. Fentanyl is a deadly drug that is taking far too many lives, and as we continue to take steps to address the opioid epidemic affecting Illinois families, our priority with this legislation is to single out fentanyl.”

State Rep. Bill Hauter, R-Morton, an anesthesiologist, said the testing strips are more effective than the opioid-overdose antidote naloxone. 

“We are getting Narcan out, but in medicine we know for sure, that it is better to prevent something than to rescue someone,” Hauter said. “Narcan has a lot of problems with its implementation.” 

Testing strips are currently listed as drug paraphernalia under state law. McCombie said that must change to keep people safe.

“It is our job to keep the public safe and to take action when communities are calling for our help,” McCombie said. “As lawmakers, when we see a problem as deep as this one, it’s our public duty to try to solve it, and I believe my bill is a viable first step forward in combating this epidemic.” 

State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, said the legislation is an important step in trying to save people’s lives. 

“We look at fentanyl, and we look at the damage that is doing, not only to our state but to our nation,” Keicher said. “We need to make sure that the tools are available that we can solve the problem on the frontend before we have deaths on the backend.”

McCombie also introduced House Bill 3210 that would increase penalties for those who sell or supply the narcotic to someone who has an overdose but the bill has stalled. 

HB3203 passed out of committee and currently awaits further consideration on the House floor. 

By ANDREW HENSEL for the Illinois Radio Network