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Watch: While lawmakers consider legalizing fentanyl test strips, this volunteer isn’t waiting to distribute them to his West Texas community

By Madison Smith, The Texas Tribune

Watch: While lawmakers consider legalizing fentanyl test strips, this volunteer isn’t waiting to distribute them to his West Texas community” 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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ABILENE — Most days, Abilene resident Michael Prado can be found driving his 2017 Dodge SUV — what he calls his “ambulance” — along a 236-mile stretch of West Texas highways from Odessa to Ranger. He goes out on the road to deliver potentially lifesaving supplies to people experiencing drug addiction. He brings them fentanyl test strips so they can test for the presence of the deadly opioid. He also comes with nasal sprays and injectables of naloxone, also known as Narcan, which can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

“It’s not enabling people. It’s caring enough to keep people alive until they make a decision,” Prado said as he packed up his car in a parking lot in late February, before heading out to distribute supplies in Abilene.

Prado works with West Texas Harm Reduction, a small, grassroots organization that offers education and training in addition to distributing supplies to those who request them in West Texas. Here, there’s no shortage of takers. Prado says some weeks he makes delivery runs five nights a week. He also hands out basic necessities like socks, condoms and snacks.

Despite climbing overdose death rates, some of these harm reduction practices are illegal under Texas law. Fentanyl test strips remain, for now, on Texas’s “drug paraphernalia” list, meaning it’s currently a crime to carry them. But that could be changing soon.

In Texas, fentanyl deaths increased by 500% from 2019 to 2022, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nationwide, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45.

Fentanyl test strips have long been opposed by many Republicans in Texas, including Gov. Greg Abbott. But ahead of the 2023 legislative session, Abbott reversed course and announced his support for decriminalizing the strips. Bills were filed to legalize the strips in Texas, and one bill has received initial approval from the Texas House. If the bill is approved by the Senate, it’s likely to be signed by the governor and become law later this year.

Until then, Prado continues to hand out test strips and other supplies in West Texas, saying “we’re just loving on people, trying to keep them alive.”

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