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Gov. Greg Abbott launches $10 million effort to combat fentanyl crisis, sends overdose-reversing meds to all 254 counties

By Stephen Simpson, The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott launches $10 million effort to combat fentanyl crisis, sends overdose-reversing meds to all 254 counties” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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To combat the growing number of fentanyl overdose deaths in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday announced a $10 million fentanyl awareness campaign and plan to distribute doses of Narcan to every county in the state.

Abbott said the state’s “One Pill Kills” multimedia campaign is designed to warn Texans about the unlawful use of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. In addition, the governor said the Texas Division of Emergency Management will be delivering a total of 20,000 doses of the overdose-reversing medication, naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, to all 254 counties in Texas.

“Fentanyl is killing more Texans than ever before,” Abbott said at the “One Pill Kills” summit on Thursday. “Last year, 2,012 Texans lost their lives because of fentanyl. When you think about it, that is an average of more than five people in Texas losing their lives every day because of fentanyl.”

The Narcan doses each come as a nasal spray and will be distributed to sheriff offices in each county.

Overdose deaths involving fentanyl in Texas rose nearly 400%, from 333 people dying in fiscal year 2019 to 1,662 dying in fiscal year 2021. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 5,000 people have died of drug overdoses between July 2021 and July 2022.

“Each branch of our administration is informing Texans about this crisis and how they can avoid falling victim to deadly fentanyl,” Abbott said.

The multimillion-dollar “One Pill Kills” campaign, led by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, will include public service announcements aired on television and radio stations and published online. The campaign and the Narcan doses will be paid for out of the state’s settlement proceeds with opioid manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.

“Today, we wrote the next chapter in our war on fentanyl by arming Texans with the tools to be able to save lives,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. Nationwide, the CDC reported that more than 107,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2021, the last year with available data. Synthetic opioids were responsible for 71,000 of those deaths, and they were largely from fentanyl.

Makers of illegal drugs often use fentanyl as a booster for other drugs they are selling. A majority of people who die of overdoses are taking illicit drugs but have no idea that those drugs have been laced with fentanyl.

A year ago, Abbott said he wants to change Texas law to classify deaths caused by fentanyl overdose as poisonings, which would allow for stiffer penalties — potentially including murder charges — for those who knowingly sell drugs mixed with fentanyl to people who use drugs. He also said he supports decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips, reversing his previous opposition to the idea.

In this legislative session, state Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, and state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, filed Senate Bill 86 to decriminalize the use of testing strips and other methods used to detect fentanyl.

The Senate has also approved two bills this session that could help achieve some of Abbott’s goals when it comes to fighting the fentanyl crisis. Senate Bill 645 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would open the door for prosecutors to deliver murder charges against people who make, sell and deliver fentanyl.

“I am proud to be here today with so many strong voices leading the fight against the fentanyl crisis in Texas communities,” Abbott said at the Thursday event. “Together, we will save more innocent lives from being lost to the scourge of fentanyl.”

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