Will ‘Texas tough’ work in fighting fentanyl fatalities?

In August 2022, Janel Rodriguez got a call from a mother she didn’t know. Her teenage son, Noah, had overdosed. She rushed over to the mother’s home, but she didn’t need to go inside to know her son was dead. Instead, she sank to her knees as every moment of Noah’s short life flashed before her eyes.

He’d grown from being an obedient, mild-mannered child to an angsty, troubled teen with the early wisps of a mustache. In between there had been birthday parties, vacations, and football games. He’d wanted to be an engineer, then he’d wanted to be an underwater welder. He’d never wanted to fatally overdose.

Screaming and crying, Ms. Rodriguez relived it all in seconds. She had to wait much longer to find out who had sold Noah the fentanyl-laced drugs. When she finally did, a prosecutor asked her how tough a punishment she wanted.

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Fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45. Texas is taking a largely tough-on-crime approach, while critics urge a new approach prioritizing addiction treatment and prevention.

“I was really torn,” she says. “All I could think about was his mom.”

The defendant had just turned 19. Legally he’s an adult, she thought, “but he’s still a child.” On the other hand, Noah had been one of four children to die from fentanyl overdoses in her Texas community, Hays County, since that summer. And by the next summer, two more children had died.

She spent a week sorting through her emotions, then she told the prosecutor she wanted the toughest possible sentence.

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