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Video: As more Texans die from fentanyl overdoses, advocates and experts urge harm reduction policies

Alyssa Pastrana was 21 years old when she died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at her home in Abilene.
Posted at 5:07 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 18:07:51-04

One hundred thousand Americans died of drug overdoses in a single year between April 2020 and April 2021. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths increased nearly 30% from the same period the year before.

Watch this video on texastribune.org.

Most of these overdoses are attributed to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is lethal in very small amounts. Fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans age 18 to 45. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has doubled down on law enforcement and border security in response to the crisis. In July, he signed laws that enhance criminal penalties for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl.

Alyssa Pastrana was 21 years old when she died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at her home in Abilene. She was six months pregnant. In January, on the anniversary of her death, her foster family reflected on the unexpected loss of their daughter. “Once you treat something like the disease it is, addiction, people can start getting the help they need without backlash or feeling like there’s something wrong with them,” said Pastrana’s foster sister, Rachel Fuentes.

Many advocates and experts who work to reduce overdose deaths in Texas support harm reduction measures, which can include testing illegal drugs for fentanyl contamination, syringe distribution programs and offering drug treatment to opioid users.

In Dallas, North Texas Rural Resilience distributes harm reduction supplies such as the lifesaving opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone. In 2015, Naloxone became legal to carry in Texas. However, other harm reduction supplies, such as fentanyl testing strips and clean syringes, are still classified as illegal drug paraphernalia in Texas.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/03/15/fentanyl-overdose-deaths-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texans seeking help for substance use can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free help line at 800-662-4357. They can also access services available in their region through the Texas Health and Human Services website.