THE BLOG
12/02/2014 04:56 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2015

Texas Excited About Drug Policy Reform

It's been a long time coming, but finally some of the national interest and enthusiasm for drug policy reform is beginning to trickle down to Texas. As lawmakers prepare for the 84th Legislature, bills focused on drug policy are among those already pre-filed and more will surely come.

A clear majority (57 percent) of Texans favor a change in marijuana laws. Two national organizations, Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, will invest resources in the state. And Rep. Tan Parker, chair of the House Corrections Committee, has stated that he will support a medical marijuana bill.

For Mothers Against Teen Violence, drug policy is broader than marijuana laws. We promote a public health approach to drug use and abuse. In fact, harm reduction -- reducing the harms caused by drug use and ineffective drug laws -- is the lynchpin of our advocacy.

Throughout 2014, MATV held quarterly meetings in Austin to connect and strategize with other reform-minded organizations. During the 84th Legislature, MATV will host a week-long exhibit in the south gallery of the capitol entitled, "Rethinking Drug Policy". We will also host supporters and collaborators for Harm Reduction Day at the Capitol to educate lawmakers about the virtues of drug policy reform.

These activities complement a thoughtful and strategic, four-pronged legislative agenda focused on harm reduction.

In the last session, Rep. Eric Johnson filed a Good Samaritan bill at our behest. With broad support in the House, the bill was poised for a House floor debate and vote when time expired. An identical bill, HB225, has been pre-filed, which encourages individuals in an overdose situation to call 911 to save a life by offering the caller protection from prosecution, even though illegal drugs may be involved. Time should not be an issue in the next session.

We couldn't be more pleased that Rep. Johnson has also agreed to file a naloxone access bill -- a first for Texas. Drug overdose is the epidemic that didn't need to happen. Naloxone (or Narcan) is a safe and highly effective prescription drug that can provide dramatic results in cases of opiate-related overdose. Unfortunately, this drug is limited in Texas to emergency rooms and EMT professionals. When the ambulance arrives too late or isn't called at all, people die. This bill aims to make naloxone available to anyone at risk of overdose.

Texas is the only state in which syringe or needle exchange programs remain illegal. HB65 would permit certain urban Texas counties to create pilot programs, offering clean syringes in exchange for used ones, prevention and other outreach services for intravenous drug users. A cure is now available for Hepatitis C, but the cost is $80,000 per patient. The cost to treat one HIV-AIDS patient is about $600,000 over a lifetime. Syringe exchange programs are not only cost effective, but also can prevent untold suffering. Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon deserves high praises for filing this bill again.

Finally, MATV will support the medical marijuana bill to be championed by Marijuana Policy Project because no one should be denied medicine necessary to relieve suffering or improve health and quality of life. This bill would bring welcome relief to children diagnosed with conditions including autism and epilepsy, veterans experiencing PTSD, as well as patients of all ages with cancer, glaucoma, HIV-AIDS and other diseases.

While we are under no illusions about the challenges that may lie ahead for our nonpartisan agenda, we are passionately committed to working for the health-promoting and life-saving laws all Texans deserve.