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Texas Senate approves bill that would let prosecutors pursue murder charges in some fentanyl deaths

By William Melhado, The Texas Tribune

Texas Senate approves bill that would let prosecutors pursue murder charges in some fentanyl deaths” 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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Texans who provide someone with a fatal dose of fentanyl could face a murder charge under a bill the Texas Senate advanced Tuesday. As part of the Legislature’s war on opioids, House Bill 6 would classify overdoses from fentanyl as “poisonings.”

The bill passed in a 30-1 vote.

Gov. Greg Abbott made combating opioid overdose deaths a key issue this session. HB 6 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 645, could effectively increase the penalties related to the sale and production of fentanyl.

On Tuesday, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the author on the Senate version of the bill, introduced an amendment to the bill to include the term “fentanyl poisoning” as an alternative to “fentanyl toxicity” when medical examiners complete the death certificate.

Sen. Drew Springer applauded Huffman’s addition to the bill. The Muenster Republican likened these deaths to poisonings because children who take Adderall laced with the much more potent drug don’t know they’re ingesting fentanyl.

HB 6 passed the House with a 124-21 vote on April 28. The Senate had previously passed Huffman’s version of the legislation in March.

State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, the author of HB 6, did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday on whether he would accept Huffman’s amendment. If Goldman signals support for the Senate amendment, this legislation would be very close to becoming law.

Supporters of the legislation argue the enhanced penalties give law enforcement more tools to help address a growing crisis in the state by holding dealers accountable.

Over two years, from fiscal year 2019 to 2021, overdose deaths involving fentanyl in the state rose nearly 400%. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 5,000 people in Texas died of drug overdoses between July 2021 and July 2022.

The issue has gained even more attention after the deaths of Texas teens and young adults from fentanyl overdoses, who thought they were taking the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder drug Adderall.

Critics say increasing penalties for sale and production of fentanyl could discourage people from seeking help for someone suffering from an overdose.

“No study has ever shown that increasing penalties for drug usage has ever reduced drug usage in people who have a drug addiction,” said Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston during a House session in April.

In other states that have increased penalties for people who sell or make fentanyl, overdose deaths have increased and family members and friends of those present when the victim took the drug have been charged.

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