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Fentanyl Strips Could Help Prevent Overdose Deaths, But They’re Illegal

Rick Bowmer

On today’s program: State Rep. Jim Struzzi is sponsoring legislation to make fentanyl strips, which are considered drug paraphernalia, legal; an explanation of how teachers actually develop lesson plans, amid attempts to limit frameworks like critical race theory; and a look at what it means for the state to be testing landfill decomposition for radium and radiation.

Rep. Jim Struzzi wants to legalize fentanyl test strips
(0:00 - 6:57)

Overdose deaths increased about 22 percent in Allegheny County last year according to data from the County medical examiner and Departments of Health and Human Services. Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams said a majority of those fatal overdoses involve a combination of drugs, including the synthetic opioid fentanyl, a very deadly substance.

One way to avoid an overdose is to test what’s in the drugs. But in Pennsylvania, fentanyl testing strips are illegal: they are considered drug paraphernalia.

State Rep. Jim Struzzi from Indiana County is sponsoring legislation that would make these strips legal for distribution across the state.

“My younger brother, Mike, died in November of 2014 of an overdose. Although it wasn’t related to fentanyl, it was a combination of different opioids, I know what it feels like to lose a loved one to a drug overdose,” says Struzzi.

He introduced the same legislation in 2019, but it didn’t advance past the Judiciary Committee. However, this year Struzzi says he’s more confident it will move forward.

“I think it’s a misconception that these types of harm prevention processes promote drug use, and they don’t,” says Struzzi. “People that are addicted are going to do the drugs either way. This is simply a way to help them stay alive, it certainly does not condone drug use in any way.”

Struzzi says the bill is just “one piece of a bigger puzzle” that should be coupled with other harm prevention techniques.

Education standards change slowly, but teachers work to keep lesson plans current
(7:04 - 14:52)

A parents group at Sewickley Academy sent a letter to the academy criticizing what they saw as political and ideological influence in the school’s curriculum.

Across the country, some politicians and parents are trying to prevent schools teaching, what has now become a buzzword: Critical race theory. But what actually goes into planning and executing curricula isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. It takes time and planning on the part of the educator, state department of education and others.

“Teachers do not make decisions on the spur of the moment about curriculum,” says Karen Levitt, associate professor and program director at Duquesne University’s Department of Instruction & Leadership in the School of Education. “They may change their daily lesson plans, but not about the content that’s being taught.”

Levitt says lesson plans are created for each day or class and fit into a larger unit plan that, in the case of public schools, addresses a standard or outcome dictated by the state that students should learn by the end of a course or grade level.

“In a daily lesson plan, teachers want to have … ‘courageous conversations’ with their kids,” says Levitt. “It’s a fine line for teachers to understand what the community wants, what their students want, and to be able to walk that line between knowing that there’s curriculum that they need to teach, but also having important conversations with students that are current.”

Levitt says being able to connect content to issues and experiences that are more current is an opportunity for teachers to keep their students more engaged with learning.

Pennsylvania will require landfills to test for radium
(14:49 - 22:30)

Last week the Wolf Administration announced it would require landfills to test liquid waste for radium, a substance that can cause cancer.

Pennsylvania landfills are already required to test liquid wastes for other contaminants, but the new requirement marks the first time radioactive materials are on the list.

According to Bemnet Alemayehu, a staff scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the rule targets waste from oil and gas production, which can "expose significant quantities of this radioactive material to the environment."

"Fracking is getting expanded, so there is a potential for concentration of these radioactive materials," Alemayehu says.

Alemayehu says that liquid radioactive wastes carry the risk of leaching into drinking water supplies.

"Another issue is most of these landfills are located in proximity to residential areas, schools and playgrounds, so that by itself also has a potential to increase the risk from radioactive materials," Alemayehu says.

In its announcement, the Wolf Administration noted the state Department of Environmental Protection found levels of radium below federal action levels in landfills during a 2016 investigation.

However, Alemayehu says the NRDC wants states to enact greater protections to prevent possible radioactive contamination.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
Eoin is a production assistant for The Confluence and a senior at NC State University studying political science. He got his start in broadcasting at WKNC, NC State's college radio station. When he's not working, he enjoys hiking, surfing, and listening to music.
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