AUSTIN (KMID/KPEJ)- Legislation co-authored by State Representative Brooks Landgraf and filed by State Representative Craig Goldman to combat the fentanyl crisis was put into action this week, less than two months after becoming law when prosecutors charged a teen, accused of selling fentanyl to a 16-year-old who later overdosed and died, with Murder; the first charge of its kind locally.
House Bill 6, which was passed by the legislature earlier this year and went into effect on September 1, 2023, increased penalties for the manufacturing and distribution of fentanyl, allowing fentanyl dealers to be charged with murder in certain circumstances.
As first reported by ABC Big 2 News, 18-year-old Nathaniel Martinez was charged with Murder Manufacture/Delivery of a Controlled Substance Causing Death on October 27, following a teen’s death in early October.
According to OPD, on October 2, officers and paramedics responded to a home on Lindberg after someone called 911 and asked for help. At the scene, officers found an unresponsive 16-year-old boy. Witnesses said the teen had overdosed on fentanyl in the past and when they tried to wake him up for school that day, they found him sitting on the floor.
They said they asked the boy if he was “okay”, to which he replied, “no”. They said they then tried to help the teen up from the floor, but he lost consciousness. That’s when witnesses said they administered Narcan and began performing CPR.
The witnesses said they believed the teen had overdosed on counterfeit M30 pills, which are known to contain fentanyl, and gave investigators consent to search the teen’s room. During that search, investigators reportedly found eight of the blue pills known as M30s.
The teen was taken to Medical Center Hospital for treatment and was then flown to a Lubbock hospital where he was declared brain dead later that same day; he died on October 3. An affidavit states that the preliminary autopsy results listed the teen’s cause of death as fentanyl overdose.
Investigators then followed a digital trail and learned that the teen had purchased fentanyl laced pills from an Instagram user just hours before he overdosed. That digital data, which included geolocation tracking, led officers to a home on Amistad, where the teen had last purchased narcotics.
On October 27, investigators spoke with Martinez after he was allegedly caught with 21.2 grams of M30 pills. In a conversation with investigators, Martinez allegedly admitted to selling between 200 and 300 M30 pills a day and said he was the person who sold to the teen just before he overdosed.
Martinez also “admitted to knowing that people frequently overdose and can die from using counterfeit M30 pills.” Investigators said Martinez also admitted that he had “personally witnessed” five or six separate non-fatal overdoses as a result of people taking M30 pills.
Landgraf said fentanyl is no ordinary drug and explained why he thinks anyone caught selling it to someone who dies as a result of an overdose should be charged to the fullest extent of the law.
“Every lawmaker in the state of Texas has lost a constituent to fentanyl poisoning,” Landgraf said. “It is heartbreaking to open up the paper and see another young face that has passed away as a result of this deadly substance. No parent should have to bury their child. Fentanyl is being treated like a poison because that’s what it is. Like anthrax, fentanyl is lethal in incredibly small amounts, meaning it needs to be classified and prosecuted unlike any other drug. That is why fentanyl dealers, like the one arrested in Odessa, should be charged with murder if someone they’ve sold the drug to dies.”
HB 6 increased the penalty for manufacturing or delivering less than one gram of fentanyl to a third-degree felony, raising the penalty to a murder if a death occurs. HB 6 also defines unlawful possession with intent to deliver such a substance as organized criminal activity to give law enforcement and prosecutors more tools to combat the crime.
“I’m grateful to the Odessa police officials who made this arrest, the prosecutors who filed the murder charge, and the medical examiners for their thankless work,” Landgraf said.
To give you an idea of what punishment Martinez face shouldhe be convicted, in late September, in Wichita County, a jury convicted 22-year-old Jasinto Jimenez of murder after he supplied fentanyl to a man who died from an overdose. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison and was the first in the state to be charged with murder in connection with a fentanyl related death. Courthouse officials said the case would likely set the precedent for future cases.
Fentanyl-related deaths reported in Texas increased 89% from 2020 to 2021. Since March 2021, as part of Operation Lone Star, the Texas Department of Public Safety has seized more than 434 million lethal doses of fentanyl across the state, enough fentanyl to kill every man, woman and child in the county.
DPS, as part of Fentanyl Awareness Month, which takes place every October, said just two milligrams of the dangerous drug can be fatal. The visual below shows, two milligrams aren’t very much.
Fentanyl is often pressed into fake pills or cut into street drugs, such as methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine — often without the user knowing it — and the outcome can be deadly. In fact, dozens of local teens and young adults have been killed by the drug since it began circulating in the community at an alarming rate in 2020.
Much of the danger lies in the fact that even healthcare professionals struggle to tell the difference between real pills and those laced with fentanyl.
Insidious in nature, the drug can cause difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, decreased heart rate, loss of consciousness, coma, and death. And once someone ingests the drug, knowingly or unknowingly, life-saving intervention often comes too late, as many teens and young adults experiment with drugs alone and out of sight of someone who can intervene.