AUSTIN (Nexstar) — During the 2021 legislative session, a Dallas Democrat 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.
Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Houston, said she believes moving toward harm reduction practices will help reduce the number of overdose deaths in Texas.
“Our code is not keeping up with the times in general, as we are developing new medical ways that actually could be helpful as we’re trying to combat addiction and overdoses and save lives,” she said.
On Wednesday, Travis County Judge Andy Brown wants the county to be able to give out fentanyl testing strips as a means of helping combat the growing drug crisis facing Central Texas right now. But those tests are considered drug paraphernalia under the Texas Controlled Substances Act and are therefore illegal.
Fentanyl testing strips can be used to test drugs, powders and pills for the presence of fentanyl, which is often more potent than other drugs and can be fatal. The strips allow people to take extra steps to protect themselves or to not take the drugs altogether.
“Harm reduction really is the answer. It does just that, it reduces the harm. Not only to individuals, but to our communities. And so if we start treating this as if it is a collective issue, it’s something that is plaguing all of us … then we can look to cities such as New York, and see that they’ve gotten real results.”
Crockett is also running for a congressional seat in south Dallas, CD-30, so she said she hopes whomever fills her state representative seat will continue to push for this legislation.
New York City’s public health department opened two overdose prevention centers in December 2021 — it’s a public health approach that aims to add more oversight and safety measures to prevent drug users from overdosing. Three weeks after opening the prevention centers, the city reported it helped avert 59 overdoses and the centers were used more than 2,000 times.
Still, due to Texas law, Travis County’s hands are tied when it comes to looking into fentanyl testing strips as a solution as its stares down a growing and fatal crisis. In 2019, more than 2,700 Texans died from drug overdose.
“It’s something that from what I’ve heard, especially from the harm reduction community, that would save lives,” Brown said. “Absolutely we would like to look into the possibility of making them available to the public if they were allowed by state law.”
Harm reduction services have also been a pillar of President Joe Biden’s plan to attack America’s overdose epidemic, which took more than 104,000 American lives from September 2020 to September 2021.
But the concept has received pushback from some who argue it encourages drug usage, rather than trying to help people abstain altogether.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized the Biden administration in February for this policy, accusing the president of supplying free crack pipes to Americans. The White House has denied these claims, pointing to the policy proposal.
Cruz first drew buzz around Biden’s policy when he tweeted “Biden crime policy: Crack pipes for all.” He doubled down on his comments later on his podcast, Verify with Ted Cruz, where he said “You want to fight for minority communities? Get the kids off crack. Don’t give them crack pipes.”
Press Secretary Jen Psaki denounced Cruz’s remarks as misleading, pointing to the details in the plan. According to a White House fact sheet, the harm reduction services include naloxone, fentanyl test strips and syringe service programs. No where does it list anything related to crack pipes.
“Syringe services sites can be effective platforms to motivate people with opioid use disorder to enroll in substance use treatment and, over time, to reduce drug use and number of drug injections. Distribution of naloxone to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose saves lives and is cost-effective,” the release said.
Grace Reader contributed to this report.