Fentanyl Is Main Agent in Fatal Pediatric Opioid Poisoning

AUSTIN — Texans who provide a lethal amount of the potent opioid fentanyl could face murder charges, according to a bill passed in the Texas Legislature this week.

After receiving final approval from both chambers, the bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 6, from state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, classifies overdoses from fentanyl as “poisonings” and requires that fentanyl overdoses and poisonings be reported as such on death certificates. In addition, the bill increases the penalties related to the sale and production of fentanyl.

“…We must act now,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, often proving lethal with as little as 2 milligrams.

Texas has seen an 89% increase in fentanyl-related deaths between 2020 and 2021, with an estimated 1,672 deaths in 2021, compared to 883 in 2020, per state data. Fentanyl has also become the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 45.

Gov. Greg Abbott has named combating opioid overdose deaths one of his top issues this session.

Another bill Abbott has championed related to fentanyl — House Bill 362, which decriminalizes fentanyl testing strips — has stalled in a Senate committee.

Critics of the bill, including state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said they fear it will only advance the war on drugs, leading to more incarceration of people with drug addiction instead of providing them with care.

“No study has ever shown that increasing penalties for drug usage has ever reduced drug usage. People who have a drug addiction do not look at the penalty range for loss for drugs,” Wu said.

Stefanie Turner, with Texas Against Fentanyl, said there is a difference between those who sell drugs knowingly and those who are struggling with substance abuse disorder. She said she hopes this bill will not group them together.

“There's not a lot of support for substance use disorder or mental health within our state. So, I have mixed emotions on (HB 6),” she said. “Collectively, I think we have to compassionately look at individual cases, and throwing everyone in prison isn't necessarily going to solve the problem.”

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