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Lifesaving fentanyl test strips. What’s stopping Texas Senate?

Despite overwhelming bipartisan support in the Texas House, a bill to decriminalize fentanyl strips remains stuck in committee in the Senate. This reluctance to move the bill by a handful of Republican lawmakers may deprive Texans of an important tool in the fight against the fentanyl epidemic.

To be fair, these drug-testing strips — currently considered drug paraphernalia under state law — would not end addiction, but they can save lives in this one-pill-can-kill epidemic. In fiscal year 2021, there were more than 1,600 suspected fentanyl overdoses in Texas. Many of them were seemingly unaware they were taking fentanyl, which is why these testing strips can be so helpful.

Drug makers are lacing fake prescription pills and other illegal substances with fentanyl, and just a tiny amount of fentanyl can kill a person. Testing strips dipped in water that contains a small amount of the pill or substance can detect the presence of fentanyl within minutes and save lives.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, told Dallas Morning News reporter Allie Morris that some of his colleagues believe that decriminalizing fentanyl strips might make people more confident abusing drugs. This is like saying that using your car seatbelt will encourage speeding.

The other two Democrats in the committee have filed or signed onto bills legalizing fentanyl strips, but the four Republican members — Sens. Joan HuffmanPete FloresPhil King and Paul Bettencourt — haven’t indicated where they stand on the matter, Morris reported.

Gov. Greg Abbott in December voiced support for the legalization of fentanyl strips, and he has made the fentanyl emergency one of his priorities this legislative session. The governor should show leadership by persuading reluctant members of his party to support the testing strip measure.

It’s worth noting that a Republican physician, Rep. Tom Oliverson of Cypress, is the lead author of the fentanyl testing strip bill that cleared the House by a 143-2 vote.

Of course, the fight against fentanyl demands more than testing strips. It must be a full-court press that also includes initiatives that educate Texans, that make opioid overdose reversal medication more accessible and that connect drug users with addiction recovery services and other supports. It’s really important for local, state and federal officials to be on the same page for all these efforts to succeed.

In Dallas, for instance, local authorities are mapping drug overdoses and leading community meetings to inform residents. Dallas ISD has empowered its staff to administer Narcan, the overdose medication, in an emergency.

Families across Texas are mourning children and other loved ones lost to accidental fentanyl overdoses. The Texas Senate can help stop that grief from spreading.

Source: dallasnews