Texas Gov. Greg Abbott delivered his 2023 State of the State address on Thursday, which highlighted the fentanyl crisis and school safety as some of the high-priority “emergency” items for this legislative session.
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With no mention of the Uvalde tragedy in his speech, Abbott said the state must provide more mental health professionals and establish the safest standards in public schools.
Abbott also attributed the fentanyl crisis, along with the prevalence of illegal guns and cartel gangs, to Texas’s “porous border” with Mexico, a result of the Biden administration’s open border policy, and called for the travesty of fentanyl-related deaths to end.
“To end cartel killings of Texans, we must do two things: call fentanyl deaths what they are—poisonings—and prosecute them as murders,” Abbott said. “We must also increase the supply of lifesaving Narcan, so we can save more Texans who are ambushed by fentanyl.”
In 2021, 5,033 Texans died from drug overdoses, a 19.8% increase from the previous year, growing at a rate higher than the national average, according to data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Over half of those deaths were attributed to opioids.
Hundreds of people rallied at the capitol on Wednesday, calling for overdose prevention reform, including the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance (THRA).
In response to Abbott’s speech, THRA was critical of Abbott’s plans to prosecute fentanyl-related deaths as murder, saying the harms of the drug war and the devastation of the overdose crisis will continue under his administration.
“Tragically, we already know the outcome of drug-induced homicide laws,” said THRA Executive Director Cate Graziani. “These laws are not new—they’ve existed for generations. They do nothing to reduce overdoses, they perpetuate racial injustice, and they exacerbate the harms of the drug war. Texans are already afraid to call 911 when there’s an overdose, for fear of arrest or prosecution, and this will only increase that fear. People who are incarcerated can’t access treatment and face disproportionately higher risk to overdose. The list of harms is endless.”
Graziani said access to Narcan and fentanyl testing strips, which Abbott recently stated his support of, only “scratch the surface” of confronting overdoses. Solutions like harm reduction centers, safe consumption sites, supportive housing, and medical treatment measures are solutions local advocates like Graziani have been calling on state leaders to pursue.