AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Activists rallied in front of the Governor’s Mansion Thursday in protest of Gov. Greg Abbott’s policies regarding harm reduction and drug overdose prevention. 

Aug. 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day. The day comes after an increase in Fentanyl related deaths in recent years.

In Texas, preliminary data shows a near 30% increase in Fentanyl related deaths from 2021 to 2022. One of the measures to combat this statistic increasing was HB 362; legislation to legalize Fentanyl testing strips — a small strip of paper that detects the existence of fentanyl in various drugs.

HB 362, despite having overwhelming support in the Texas House, ultimately failed in the Senate. The bill’s failure to get passed shares disappointment with Sen. John Cornyn. 

“I don’t really understand why legalizing the fentanyl testing strips would be controversial,” Cornyn said. “I think it will save lives.” 

HB 362’s failure is one issue spurring Thursday’s protest by VOCAL-TX, the group of activists and harm reduction workers are rallying at the Governor’s Mansion. The group displayed flowers and fake gravestones “listing Abbott’s failures” in drug policy.

One of the activists was Carolyn Williams, a mother of a son who’s died as a result of a fentanyl overdose.

“I’m devasted about my son,” Williams said. “They should do something, change the laws to something.”

One of the other VOCAL-TX is Troy Garza, and he is a conservative Christian. Garza highlighted that while he doesn’t necessarily agree with some of the political beliefs his fellow VOCAL-TX activists have, the fentanyl epidemic should be addressed as a bipartisan effort.

“I don’t agree with a lot of people in this group on a lot of stuff,” Garza said. “But the one thing I agree with them on is that human life is precious.”

Abbott has made fentanyl trafficking prevention a prominent part of his policy priorities. In February, he made addressing the dangers of fentanyl an emergency item for the legislature. He directed lawmakers to label fentanyl overdoses as “poisonings” and prosecute them as murder. He also urged the state to increase the supply of NARCAN, an emergency opioid overdose antidote.  

The protest began at the Governor’s Mansion at 11:15 a.m.