Texas has ramped up efforts to tackle the fentanyl crisis that has seized the state, resulting in multiple deaths. During the One Pill Kills summit in Austin last Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott announced two significant statewide initiatives aimed at fighting the synthetic opioid. The summit brought together healthcare professionals, law enforcement agencies, and families impacted by fentanyl. Debbie Petersen of Carrollton, one of the mothers who lost her son to fentanyl, was present at the summit and said “it feels good to be around other parents who have also lost children because they’re the only ones who can understand each other”. She lost her son, Matt, to fentanyl poisoning last year, and he was one of 2,000 Texans who lost their lives to the synthetic opioid.
Describing her son, Petersen said that he was a “30-year-old genius IQ” who enjoyed skateboarding and movies, had a YouTube channel and was a musician. He was working towards his master’s degree at the University of Texas in Arlington before his untimely death. Texas is now fighting to break the stigmas surrounding fentanyl victims and is working towards creating new awareness programs to prevent further loss of lives.
The recent summit included panel discussions amongst parents, healthcare professionals, and law enforcement agencies about the best ways to fight fentanyl. They discussed how cooperation amongst these groups will enhance efforts towards reducing fentanyl deaths. Stephanie Hellstern of the North Texas Fentanyl Coalition, who lost her own son to fentanyl, pointed out that breaking stigmas and educating the public on the drug’s dangers is crucial in saving lives. She wondered why there are no Public Service Announcements (PSAs) or education currently available to help aggressively fight the crisis.
Governor Abbott has launched a two-part battle plan to tackle fentanyl. The first is a new $10 million multimedia awareness initiative to educate Texans on how to prevent, recognize, and reverse fentanyl poisonings. The initiative will form part of the statewide “One Pill Kills” campaign, and the awareness will take various forms such as billboards, website and social media advertisements, and radio spots. The second aspect of the initiative is the distribution of Naloxone, or Narcan, which will go to all 254 Texas counties by the Texas Division of Emergency Management. The drug reverses the impact of a fentanyl overdose.
Abbott noted that “with five Texans losing their lives every day to this clandestine killer… we will save more innocent lives from being lost to the scourge of fentanyl.” The program was developed through an association between HHSC and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, who will create a multimedia initiative to educate the public about fentanyl’s risks and how to use Narcan to save those exposed to the deadly drug. The new media campaign is targeted towards young people, adults, and educators across Texas by using billboards, website and social media advertisements, Spanish radio announcements, and more.
The announcements from Governor Abbott came just one day after a 13-year-old student in Carrollton had to be revived by Narcan several times in a middle school classroom. The school district has seen an increase in fentanyl overdoses and deaths in recent months, with police making arrests in connection to the cases. Irving Police also shared warning flyers about fentanyl, having seen an increase in arrests and overdoses among school-age children over the last two years.
Efforts towards fentanyl awareness were boosted after Van Zandt County launched an all-new fentanyl task force this week after a 13-year-old overdosed. The student was taken to Children’s Hospital in Dallas, where he is struggling to recover. That was the second fentanyl-involved incident in that particular school within the last 30 days. One day after the task force was created, a suspected drug dealer of fentanyl was arrested, with officials seizing 150 fentanyl pills. Officials warn that drug dealers are selling fentanyl with Narcan, causing more problems.
Currently, the Texas Legislature is considering House Bill 3908, which would make fentanyl education and awareness mandatory in schools across the state. Petersen is asking parents to talk to their neighbors, children, and friends and let them know that fentanyl is no longer just being found in illegal drugs; it is now being put in every drug out there. The recent initiatives are aimed at changing the narrative on fentanyl and saving more lives.