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Texas moves closer to charging fentanyl distributors with murder after Senate unanimously passes bill

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate unanimously passed a bill that would allow state prosecutors to charge fentanyl distributors with murder, the Texas Tribune reported.

The “Combating Fentanyl” bill, Senate Bill 645, was introduced by Republican Senator Joan Huffman, and, if passed by the state legislature, it would open the door for prosecutors to charge individuals who make, sell, or deliver fentanyl in Texas with murder.

The legislation would also classify fentanyl overdoses as “poisonings” and increase the penalty for making and distributing less than one gram of fentanyl from a state jail felony to a third-degree felony. If an individual dies due to fentanyl exposure, the penalty would be raised to a second-degree felony.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, just two milligrams of the opioid can be lethal.

“#DEA lab testing reveals 6 out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake Rx pills analyzed in 2022 now contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl,” the agency posted on Twitter. “Just 2 mg of fentanyl, a small amount that fits on a pencil tip, is considered a potentially deadly dose.”

While introducing the bill on Wednesday, Huffman stated, “We have tragically learned the extent of how dangerous fentanyl is and how even under 1 gram is so dangerous.”

“It’s a fact that fentanyl is flooding our borders. It is absolutely without a doubt killing our citizens on a daily basis. And it’s time that we take a comprehensive approach to combat this,” Huffman added.

The bill would also increase penalties for making, selling, or delivering larger quantities of fentanyl. For example, an individual possessing between 200 to 400 grams would be charged with a first-degree felony and serve between 10 years and life in prison and a would receive a fine of up to $100,000. Anyone in possession of over 400 grams would also be charged with a first-degree felony, spend up to 15 years in prison, and pay a fine of up to $250,000.

In the fiscal year 2019, there were 333 fentanyl overdose deaths, and in 2021 there were 1,662 — a nearly 400% increase. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between July 2021 and July 2022, 5,000 people died from overdoses.

The legislation carves out exceptions for medical professionals who prescribe fentanyl as a treatment for patients.

Even if lawmakers approve the bill, prosecutors must demonstrate that the person selling or distributing drugs knew the narcotics were laced with fentanyl to charge an individual with murder.

“It may be that they find it’s easier to prosecute under the other statute that I passed that would make it a second-degree felony,” Huffman said. “But there may be extraordinary cases where it’s clear cut and the prosecutor then could have this tool to file for first-degree felony.”

Republican Governor Greg Abbott expressed his support for the bill’s passage in the Senate in a Twitter post on Wednesday evening.

“Here we go!” Abbott wrote. “You kill Texans with fentanyl. You get charged with murder. Senate passes bill opening door for prosecutors to charge fentanyl distributors with murder.”

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