Community activists take concerns surrounding fentanyl crisis to Texas lawmakers

Community activists took their concerns surrounding the handling of the fentanyl crisis straight to lawmakers.

"Right now, I'm a homeless person. I'm an unhoused person. So, yes, I want the drug war to stop, but I don't want to see any more friends and family die on the stuff," said Tony Carter. "That is why we are here today, to support fentanyl test strips, so that Texans will quit losing loved ones, friends." 

Carter and other community members joined Texas Harm Reduction Alliance staff to deliver a petition with 700 signatures to State Sen. Joan Huffman’s office. They believe Sen. Huffman is the reason legislation that would legalize fentanyl test strips has stalled in committee. 

RELATED: State legislation filed in 2023 session would legalize fentanyl test strips

Sen. Huffman was not in her office, and comments made by the senator's communications director were met with chants of, "Get Huffman on the phone!"

"This is a bill that Governor Abbott has supported. It has bipartisan support. It's a harm reduction tool that would genuinely save a lot of lives," said Eli Cortez, Austin organizer with THRA. "We've been in contact with her office up until this point, and they've denied any sort of stance on the bill, despite multiple sources telling us that it is her office that is holding that bill up. And then on top of the fact that she's sponsoring that drug-induced homicide bill."

Cortez was referring to SB 645. It would increase penalties for dealers of drugs containing fentanyl. If someone dies of a fentanyl-related overdose, distributors could face a murder charge.

"It just heightens and heightens the amount of fear that people have to call for help," said Cortez. "That's why overdose numbers are so high."

SB 645’s House companion bill, HB 6, had its second reading Thursday, April 27. The group briefly protested in the House chambers before being removed. 

"Every day, Texans are losing their lives to fentanyl," said Sen. Huffman in a statement earlier this year. "Senate Bill 645 sends a clear message to those manufacturing and peddling this lethal poison that the State of Texas is fighting back." 

FOX 7 reached out to Sen. Huffman for comment, and is waiting to hear back. 

On Wednesday, April 26, Travis County released data showing that the number of residents who died of a fentanyl-related overdose doubled in 2022 compared to 2021.