Texas Lege Preview: Parties Agree That Fentanyl Sucks
Bipartisan consensus emerges to tackle opioid overdose crisis
There are not many life-or-death issues Texas faces that will be resolved through any sort of bipartisan effort, but the opioid overdose crisis may become one of them. This is partially due to its severity – the first six months of 2022 saw 118 deaths in Travis County, the same number from the entire year before – but Gov. Greg Abbott's support in late 2022 for decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips made meaningful action in the 88th legislative session more likely. Senate Bill 86, by Sens. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, and Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would make this happen; Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, says, "I'm actually not surprised" by Abbott's pivot. "Fentanyl poisoning is hurting all of us regardless of what party we're in."
The Texas Harm Reduction Alliance and other advocates are also pushing for an expansion of syringe services programs and of Texas' Good Samaritan law, which protects those who call for help from being arrested but doesn't cover those with felony drug charges or those who have called in the last 18 months. They'd also like to fix a snag that Travis County's lawyers recently ran into regarding Sen. Royce West's original 2015 bill legalizing naloxone, which contains a caveat that governments can't pay nonprofits to distribute the lifesaving, overdose-reversing drug.
The 88th Lege also has at its disposal – on top of its unprecedented $30 billion surplus – a $2.4 billion (and growing) windfall of settlement money from opioid manufacturers and distributors. Last session's SB 1827 created the Opioid Abatement Fund Council to decide how some of that money will be distributed by the comptroller's office; the rest will go to local entities and to the Lege to appropriate as it sees fit. Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, says, "I'm hoping to be able to use the fact that I'm a nurse and connected to health care to emphasize that this is a public health issue, rather than a law enforcement issue. The bottom line is, we can't get people into recovery if they're not alive."