Greg Abbott

Gov. Abbott signs several new laws in fight against fentanyl

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After months of lobbying in Austin, families and law enforcement across Texas are celebrating a huge win in the fight against fentanyl.

On Wednesday, Governor Greg Abbott signed bills into law as part of the state's effort to crack down on the deadly drug.

It's a full-circle moment, for families across the state who have been devastated by fentanyl.

"It's so painful to lose a child,” said Stefanie Turner, who lost her 18-year-old son Tucker to the drug. "My son wanted to be remembered but I guarantee this is not what he wanted nor what I had envisioned. After four months of sobriety, he made a terrible decision and purchased a pill on social media. He was found dead 10 hours later."

Fentanyl is an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin and may be mixed with other substances and counterfeit (fake) pills. Even in small doses, as few as two milligrams, fentanyl can cause a life-threatening overdose or be lethal.

In a ceremony surrounded by parents who have lost loved ones, Gov. Abbott officially signed four new laws he said will fight the fentanyl epidemic.

"The legislature took up my call, embraced it and embraced family members in each of their districts across the state,” he said during the ceremonial signing on Wednesday. "In 2022, more than 2,000 Texans lost their lives because of fentanyl. That's more than five Texans losing their life every single day."

One of the new laws will allow prosecutors to seek a murder charge for fentanyl-related deaths, impacting those who make or sell the deadly drug.

That's something Carrollton police chief Roberto Arredondo pushed for when he spoke before lawmakers during a hearing in Austin in April, as the legislature heard testimony from families and law enforcement in support of the law.

"It's a tool and a resource for us to use and with the partnership that we have with the Dallas District Attorney and the other DAs in the area. I think it's going to be a big deal for us and a great opportunity for us to hold these drug dealers accountable,” he said. “I personally feel there's still work to do, but I'm not discouraged by where we're at.”

He stressed that no community is immune to the devastating effects of fentanyl. Chief Arredondo’s city was turned upside down after dozens of poisonings and three deaths among school children in Carrollton in a matter of months earlier this year.

“Here in Carrollton, we're doing all we can to try to address this and we will leave no stone unturned. This is a bigger problem across the state and across our nation,” he said. “So we really do need our legislative bodies to enact these laws to help us, to give us these resources that we need to hold these drug dealers accountable. They are harming our youth, they are harming our children and we need their help to combat this.”

Another law requires fentanyl deaths to be classified as poisonings or fentanyl toxicity, not overdoses, on death certificates.

That's important for Carrollton mother Debbie Petersen, who lost her son Matt Harvey last year when a pill he thought was oxycodone to help with pain was really pure fentanyl.

"Matt Harvey is forever 30. He is just an incredible genius with a master's degree,” she said. "He loves skateboarding, singing. He has a Youtube channel where he sings original songs. He is missed by his brother, which was his best friend, and so many of his friends.”

After months of meetings with lawmakers and lobbying at the capital, she made it back to Austin for the signing on Wednesday.

"These three-hour drives are definitely taking a toll. But I wouldn't miss this for anything,” Petersen said. "It's a very emotional day. I know that we are going to save lives, but I also know our children aren't coming back and we just, we miss them so much."

Two more laws signed by Gov. Abbott include a requirement for school districts to keep a supply of Narcan on hand and another requirement to provide education on drug addiction and fentanyl abuse prevention in grades 6 through 12, also known as Tucker's Law. It was named in honor of Turner’s son.

"If I had the knowledge and wisdom I do now, I would have educated my son about this potent highly addictive lethal poison. But I didn't know and neither did he. And that's the story with so many of our angel families. We didn't know,” she said.

The new laws will go into effect on Sept. 1.

Turner – who founded a nonprofit called Texas Against Fentanyl – will now focus on helping implement education curriculum in Texas schools on the dangers of fentanyl.

“Our future entails working with educators, law enforcement agencies and communities across the state of Texas to further develop The Tucker Project curriculum as well as providing training for teachers, students, parents and the broader population,” the organization said in a statement. “Texas Against Fentanyl partnerships and angel family network are driven to ensure this reaches every Texas citizen and beyond.”

Meanwhile, Petersen will focus on her own efforts to honor her son’s memory.

“As this closes one chapter for me, I will now move on to putting together a foundation in Matt's name,” she told NBC 5. “It will be called Music Heals, the Matt Harvey Foundation. We will give scholarships out for those who want to further their education and music and in history.”

Petersen hopes to support students in Carrollton, Arlington and beyond – where Matt had attended high school, college and graduate school. She also hopes to keep in touch with the community of parents she has met, who never wanted to be in the same club to begin with.

"The only way any of us can get through it is if we band together with other parents. The pain is just too traumatic to get through on your own,” Petersen said. “Having others in your life who have been through it, who can help you through it – and finding ways to honor our children and keep them alive in spirit."

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