(Photo by Brandon Bell/Staff via Getty Images)
OAN Brooke Mallory
UPDATED 6:30 PM – Thursday, March 16, 2023
The Texas Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would consider fentanyl poisoning as murder for reasons related to both prosecution and death certificates.
Over the past two years, the Texas Department of Public Safety seized over 353 million deadly doses of fentanyl, which is technically enough drugs to take the lives of every single U.S. citizen, said Republican Senator Joan Huffman (R-Texas) to the Senate.
Governor Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and other state lawmakers have decided to take a tougher approach to the fentanyl crisis by pushing actions to increase criminal penalties and by classifying overdoses from the drug as “poisonings.”
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), just two milligrams of fentanyl can be a lethal dose, depending on an individual’s body size, tolerance, and past usage.
Under current Texas law and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), some state subjects do not have liability to share overdose information in efforts to distinguish overdose “hot spots.”
Knowing these key areas could help officials install different beneficial resources to those specific areas.
The bill permits emergency responders to provide restricted parts of that information without any fear of legal reprisal. However, the bill would not allow these state subjects to share the victim’s personal information.
“So, to continue our efforts to keep this drug from hitting our communities, the committee substitute to Senate Bill 645 increases the penalty for manufacturing or delivery of less than 1 gram of fentanyl from a state felony to a third-degree felony. Furthermore, if an individual dies from fentanyl overdose, the penalty would be enhanced to a second degree,” said Senator Huffman.
Huffman attached a floor amendment to Senate Bill 645, detailing the manufacturing or delivering of fentanyl as murder if an individual were to die from an overdose.
The bill also makes possession of fentanyl with intent to deliver prosecutable, under the statute that it would govern organized crime.
Overdoses involving fentanyl in Texas rose nearly 400% from 2019 to 2021 and the CDC estimates that more than 5,000 people died of these overdoses between July of 2021 to July of 2022.
Many media outlets have also attracted attention to the topic by covering stories of young people who passed away from fentanyl overdoses, with their families demanding that lawmakers put a stop to this growing crisis.
“Members, we’ve reached a critical point in the fentanyl crisis here in Texas… We have no choice but to take a comprehensive approach to what is going on,” Huffman added.
The Senator said that she added this language to Senate Bill 1, which was the general appropriations bill which allowed more than $18 million to go towards overdose prevention education and reversal medication like Narcan, in order to help law enforcement.
In order to speed up Senate Bill 645 through both its second and third readings, the Senate suspended their standard rules.
Some mentioned challenges involving the bill revolve around what kind of questioning would transpire and how prosecutors would be able to prove whether the individual selling or distributing the drugs knew that they were selling something that included fentanyl.
Plus, it’s broadly understood among DEA special agents and police that many people who sell or distribute the drugs are not usually the same people who are manufacturing the drugs. Multiple parties are typically involved in the whole process.
However, the bill still passed in a landslide approval of 30-0 and now begins its transfer to the House of Representatives.
Many parents and friends of deceased fentanyl users have rejoiced in the outcome of this bill and hope that it stops more drug overdoses from happening in the future, so that other families and loved ones will never have to go through the same experience they did.
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