By Chris Edwards
In 1969, Brian Jones, the Rolling Stones’ shaggy-haired, mercurial guitarist was found dead in a swimming pool. The ruling: “death by misadventure.”
Oh, how those Brits have a way with euphemisms. In the United Kingdom, that phrase is used to describe an accidental death caused by a risk taken of one’s own volition. Theories abound as to what actually happened to Jones, but an autopsy revealed his death occurred while he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Americans know sadly, and all-too-well, the dangers of death by misadventure, even if that phrase does not appear on coroners’ post-mortem findings here, and although our fair share of glamorous rock stars have met untimely ends due to substance(s), the problem knows all ages, income tax brackets and other demographic signifiers.
Every generation, it would seem, has a problem linked to a certain drug, and this generation, it would seem, has the deadliest one of them, yet, yoked around its neck: fentanyl.
It is an issue that mars all corners of our country, but Texas has an especially pressing problem with the substance. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that fentanyl-related overdoses in our state rose by 399% between 2019 and 2021.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and is often mixed with drugs such as heroin. One source stated that the drug was the cause of more than 5,000 fatal Texan overdoses in from 2021 to 2022. Experts claim that the drug is 50 times more potent than heroin, and sadly, many of those 5,000+ deaths appear that the users were unaware they were ingesting fentanyl.
In a perfect world, people would not feel the need to obtain a good feeling via synthetic means that might harm, but as we know, that utopia does not exist, and people want to feel high, often at the expense of their health.
There’s no crime in wanting to feel a “high,” whatever that might entail. People are going to pursue an elevated state, whether that comes from driving too fast; eating insanely spicy foods; bungee jumping or however one gets one’s kicks. Sadly, some do so by turning to illicit substances.
As many times as a parental figure, or someone with caution in mind, might implore one to proceed with extreme caution, we all know that people are going to do what they’re gonna do; lessons learned the hard way. The “Just Say No” rhetoric of Nancy Reagan’s era does not work for everyone.
The problem with fentanyl is that lesson is often fatal. As more of the drug pours into our state, more unnecessary deaths will occur. The drug is odorless and tasteless, which makes detection almost impossible without specialized equipment, such as testing strips.
In today’s hyper-partisan climate of the country’s two biggest street gangs bickering back and forth, anything labelled “bipartisan” seems about as rare as finding eyebrows on eggs. One thing that both the red and blue tribes can agree on is that fentanyl is an enormous problem.
This year, our lawmakers failed constituents on a measure that could prevent overdoses and save lives. A bill that would have legalized fentanyl testing strips passed the lower chamber, yet died in the Senate, despite support from Gov. Greg Abbott. The testing strips are classified as drug paraphernalia, at present.
The War on Drugs has been an enormous failure, with untold billions of dollars poured into punitive measures regarding dangerous drugs. Instead of this measure, basing drug policy on a moral model, emphasis needs to be placed on harm reduction, which such practices as legalizing fentanyl testing strips works toward.
There is nothing inherently “moral” or “immoral” about using drugs, and those who choose to use them deserve fundamental human rights, including, above all, the right to live.
Policymaking based on fear and mythologies needs to be replaced with evidence-based approaches in the name of harm reduction, education and keeping people healthy and safe.
Along with measures such as legalized testing strips, the state should enact a “Good Samaritan” policy, where someone can call 911, if they suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, without any fear of arrest or subsequent prosecution. Access to Narcan, a drug which can reverse an opioid overdose, should also be increased.
People will get their kicks however they choose to do so, but there are ways the risks can be mitigated. Prevention cannot exist if there is no attention given to harm reduction.