AUSTIN (KXAN) — A small testing strip, usually costing no more than $2 a piece, could save lives in Texas by alerting a drug user to fentanyl mixed into a drug. But fentanyl testing strips are classified under Texas law as drug paraphernalia, making them illegal to have.
During the 2021 legislative session, Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, managed to gain bipartisan support in her committee for a bill that would remove criminal penalties for possessing drug paraphernalia, but it never made it to the House floor for a vote.
“Oftentimes bills have to be introduced more than once before they finally become law,” Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, said. Talarico is one of the lawmakers taking the baton on harm reduction legislation this year.
House Bill 85, authored by Talarico, would decriminalize the testing strips. Representatives Sheryl Cole, D-Austin, and Tom Oliverson, a Republican representing Harris County, have filed similar bills. So has Senator Sarah Eckhart, who also represents the Austin area.
“Currently 19 states in our country allow these test strips to be used to keep their citizens safe. But Texas is not one of them,” Talarico said.
It’s a state law that trickles down to local governments in their response to the fentanyl crisis. Travis County Judge Andy Brown has been vocal about the frustrations the county has trying to get people harm reduction tools while being handcuffed by the state.
“If that law went away and it was legal to possess them and legal for counties and governments to distribute them, we certainly would do that,” Brown said.
In May, Travis County declared a public health crisis in response to a growing number of drug overdose deaths. The Travis County Medical Examiner’s 2021 report showed for the first time in a decade that drug overdoses were the leading cause of accidental death in the county.
Joseph Gorordo, the executive director of Recovery Unplugged Austin, says if the county was given that option, lives would be saved.
“You know, even someone with addiction doesn’t want to die. Right. If fentanyl strips are readily available and easily accessible, people will use them, they will test their drugs and they will do their best to be safe,” Gorordo said.