HOUSTON — U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) joined local leaders to raise awareness on the ongoing fentanyl crisis Friday.
A discussion was held at Texas Children's Hospital where top healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and families impacted by the crisis shared their stories.
"In my 38 years in law enforcement, I've never felt the threat of any other drug on our nation like this drug has presented," said Mike McDaniel, Director, Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
Collen Fitzpatrick has two daughters in recovery.
"This is an epidemic, it's not going away, parents need to pay attention," Fitzpatrick said.
Nancy Fowler lost her daughter, Kate Fowler, nine months ago to fentanyl poisoning.
"Vivacious, smiling, happy, she loved everyone," Fowler said. "On the other hand, she struggled. She struggled a lot with her mental health."
Fowler said her daughter, who wanted to grow up to be a doctor, was fighting depression and ordered pills off Snapchat, not knowing it was laced with the deadly drug. She was just 18 years old.
"She wanted to grow up and help people, and she's not here to do that now. So I'm helping her and speaking out," Fowler said.
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Experts say fentanyl deaths among youth are skyrocketing. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, here in Houston, more than 7 million fatal doses of fentanyl were seized in 2022. An amount large enough to kill the entire population of Houston three times over.
A highly addictive and powerful synthetic opioid, doctors say fentanyl is often hidden because it's laced with other drugs. Often leading to unintentional overdoses, because most people have no idea they're even taking it.
"Right now, we have no easy way of detecting fentanyl if it's being added to an illicit drug," said Dr. Lara Shekerdemian, Pediatrician-in-Chief at Texas Children's Hospital. "But the ability to test, and rapidly have an answer could be a game changer and lifesaving."
This is why back in July, Cornyn helped introduce the 'Fentanyl Safe Testing and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act' which he said will help prevent deaths from fentanyl poisoning by increasing access to fentanyl test strips.
This week, he also introduced another piece of legislation. Halting the Epidemic of Addiction and Loss (HEAL) Act, which would help first responders save more lives, by expanding access to new life-saving overdose reversal medicines.
"Unless we figure out a way to stop this or slow it down, it's going to get nothing but worse, because the drug cartels that sell this poison care about nothing except the money," Cornyn said.
Other strategies discussed during the roundtable to help end the crisis included raising awareness in local schools, continuing to grow and expanding local outreach programs including the HEROES or Houston Emergency Opioid Engagement System program, and working closely with law enforcement agencies.