Texas Legislature considering bills to increase criminal penalties for people who manufacture or distribute fentanyl may soon become a reality. If passed into law, this would allow for such people to be charged with murder in the event of an overdose leading to someone’s death.
House Bill 6, sponsored by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth proposes that fentanyl overdoses be classified as poisonings on death certificates. This would require the medical examiner to report fentanyl intoxication as the cause of death and classify it as a homicide. The proposed bill would allow drug dealers to be charged with murder for providing the deadly opioid.
Goldman asserts that the proposed legislation is in the interest of all Texans, especially families who have lost loved ones to unnecessary opioid overdoses. Opponents of the bill argue that it would further intensify America’s failed war on drugs and result in the wrongful incarceration of Black and Hispanic Texans dealing with drug addiction. They have called on policymakers to provide more funds for care programs for those affected by addiction.
HB 6 passed with a resounding 124-21 vote at the Texas House, and the bill’s advance is a priority for Governor Greg Abbott, who announced it as an emergency priority during his State of the State address in February. The Senate also passed Senate Bill 645 in March, and it is expected that a form of the legislation will be sent to Governor Abbott for approval before the session ends on May 29.
However, some bills, such as HB 362, which would legalize the use of fentanyl test strips, face more opposition. The proposed legislation seeks to allow individuals to check if other drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamines, contain the harmful opioid. Abbott previously announced plans to provide law enforcement with Narcan, a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in every Texas county.
Advocates of legalized fentanyl test strips argue that it would help prevent needless overdoses, particularly in users that may not know they are taking the drug. However, the proposed legislation faces bipartisan opposition from lawmakers in the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee and could result in misdemeanor charges for those who use or distribute them, particularly since they are currently considered drug paraphernalia under Texas law.
Overall, lawmakers in Texas are poised to enact legislation aimed at combating the opioid epidemic, particularly as fentanyl overdoses continue to be a major health crisis. However, the debate over how best to respond to drug addiction, including whether policies should focus on punishing or rehabilitating drug users, remains of significant concern.