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Texas State Rep. James Talarico files bill to legalize fentanyl testing strips

A similar bill was filed during the last legislative session and received bipartisan support, but it never made it to the floor.

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas State Rep. James Talarico filed a bill Thursday that seeks to legalize fentanyl testing strips in the state.

Talarico said passing House Bill 85 is a matter of life and death as the fentanyl epidemic continues to grip the U.S.

“If we don’t pass this bill, Texans are going to die needlessly," Talarico said. "I think we have a moral obligation to ensure that our loved ones, our family members, our neighbors who struggle with addiction, are kept safe from this deadly synthetic fentanyl.”

Despite the rising number of drug toxicity deaths and reports of fentanyl overdoses, tools used to detect the ultra-potent synthetic opioid are still classified as drug paraphernalia – making it a crime to possess or distribute them. 

The practice of “drug-checking” – essentially, testing illicit drugs to see if they contain unknown toxins – has remained controversial even as the crisis of fentanyl deaths has attracted national attention.

"We have an addiction crisis in this country that we have to address. We're working on that, too. But we've got a short-term crisis of this deadly synthetic being on the drugs that Texans are taking. It's killing them at a rapid pace," Talarico said. "By legalizing fentanyl testing strips, we can save Texans' lives."

Harm reduction services, including providing fentanyl testing strips, have been a pillar of President Joe Biden’s plan to attack America’s overdose epidemic, which took more than 104,000 American lives from September 2020 to September 2021.

But the concept has received pushback from some who argue it encourages drug usage, rather than trying to help people abstain altogether. Fentanyl testing strips are only legal in 19 states.

"[Fentanyl testing strips] can stop them from taking it and hopefully save the life of a son or a daughter, a mom or a dad or a grandparent struggling with addiction, and we can get them the help that they need," Talarico said.  

In 2021, State Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas), introduced a bill that would have decriminalized drug paraphernalia in Texas, including fentanyl test strips. Crockett received bipartisan support, but the bill failed to reach the floor last legislative session. She is now running for U.S Congress.

Talarico said he wants to take his bill further and believes he, too, will receive bipartisan support.

“I’m hopeful that Democrats and Republicans will come together to pass life-saving legislation like this," Talarico said. "Public safety tends to be where we all agree. We can disagree about the budget, about political issues – but when it comes to keeping our communities and our loved ones safe, that's something we can all get on board with."

On the local level, Travis County Judge Andy Brown has long pushed for the legalization of fentanyl testing strips.

In May, the County declared a public health crisis as drug overdoses spiked. The declaration ensures safe syringe disposal throughout the county. It also expands Narcan access and funds $350,000 for harm reduction supplies, which the County has reportedly started utilizing.

In October, Austin-Travis County received 9,900 doses of Naloxone, or Narcan, the life-saving drug that reverses opioid overdoses. The drug is currently in high demand and short supply.

Narcan works by attaching itself to opioid receptors, reversing and blocking the effects of opioids. This will quickly restore breathing to someone whose breathing has slowed or stopped because of an overdose.

According to Travis County's 2021 Medical Examiner Annual Report, drug overdoses are the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths in the county. Looking at accidental deaths in the county, drug overdose deaths surpassed those who fall and die in car crashes.

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