Sen. John Cornyn is leading the charge against fentanyl overdoses, and he has significant bipartisan support despite legislative roadblocks.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has been increasingly making its way into the United States from drug cartels based in Mexico. Its powdered form is often mixed in with cocaine or heroin to increase potency, but it can also be pressed into pill form to mimic prescription medications. Because the process is illegal and unregulated, these drugs can contain fatal doses of fentanyl similar to the rash of fatal alcohol poisonings during the Prohibition Era. Over a hundred people die each year from fentanyl poisoning.
One of those was Sienna Vaugh, a 16-year-old Plano girl who took what she thought was Percocet (a painkiller) during a sleepover with a friend. The pill contained fentanyl, and she succumbed at the hospital later that night. Her father Ryan gifted Cornyn with a small rubber bracelet with angel wings that says “One Pill Can Kill,” and the senator wears it on his wrist as he makes his way around to various roundtables.
“These are some of the most emotional events that I’ve ever been to,” Cornyn told The Dallas Morning News. “As a parent myself, the idea of losing a child due to … an accidental overdose is such a compelling issue. They’re just very sad stories, and I think should be entirely preventable.”
Cornyn’s advocacy is centered on two very reasonable potentially life-saving protocols.
The first is expanding access to naloxone, commonly known as Narcan. The drug can reverse an opioid overdose if administered quickly. The medication is prescription only in the United States, though activists have been handing out for free in hopes of cheating death. Some cities such as Dallas have become outfitting cops with Narcan to carry with them in case of emergencies. Earlier this month, Cornyn introduced a bill that would approve the use of Narcan for various state and federal grants.
He has received some pushback for this. Opponents claim that it will promote unsafe drug use. Studies show this is not the case, but the idea persists.
Cornyn’s second avenue is the decriminalization of strips that test for the presence of fentanyl. This idea has been floated in federal and state legislatures, and has run into the same claim that it encourages more drug use. Again, there is no evidence that this is the case.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Cornyn told The News. “There’s no one thing that we could do to try to deal with this crisis. But to me, [test strips are] a small thing that we could do to help people protect themselves against inadvertent use of something that will kill them.”
Cornyn laid some of the blame for the crisis at the feet of the Biden Administration over border policy. More than 85 percent of drug traffickers cross the border legally, and the Biden Administration has significantly invested in border security, especially in Texas.