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Texas Gov. Abbott directs state agencies to ramp up anti-fentanyl efforts

The governor said fentanyl poses a "grave threat to Texans."

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants state agencies to do more to address the growing fentanyl crisis.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that it is a "major contributor" to overdoses in the U.S.

On Tuesday, Abbott sent a letter to leaders with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Health and Human Services Commission, Department of State Health Services, Department of Family and Protective Services, Juvenile Justice Department, Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Workforce Commission, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Education Agency. In the letter, Abbott directed each of the agencies to do more to inform Texans about fentanyl's "lethality and prevalence."

Abbott said actions could include but aren't limited to developing public service announcements, posting flyers in prominent locations around regulated facilities, training staff and providing educational opportunities to Texans.

Abbott also said the agencies should be prepared to outline statutory changes, budget priorities and other initiatives during the upcoming legislative session, which is scheduled to begin in January. The governor said such initiatives should enhance the state's ability to prohibit fentanyl use, provide emergency overdose treatment and expand substance abuse treatment programs. 

Agencies can coordinate with the Texas Opioid Abatement Fund Council to further amplify efforts, according to Abbott.

The letter states that Texas saw an 89% increase in fentanyl-related deaths in 2021 compared to 2020, with provisional data showing 1,672 such deaths in 2021 compared to 883 in 2020. Both years were steep increases over 2018, when there were 214 fentanyl-related deaths in Texas.

"Fentanyl’s potency and deceptiveness, combined with the federal government’s unwillingness to take border security seriously, pose a grave threat to Texans,” Abbott wrote in the letter. "We must take all appropriate actions to inform Texans of this danger and prevent additional deaths. Together we can help bring awareness to the threat posed by fentanyl and do our part to address this crisis."

Read Abbott's letter in full.

Overdose deaths have been on the rise in Travis County over the past few years, with Austin leaders declaring a public health crisis over drug overdoses in June. Elsewhere in Central Texas, four Hays CISD students died this summer from fentanyl or suspected fentanyl overdoes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently issued a warning about “rainbow” fentanyl, saying authorities have seized the drug in 21 states.

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