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Tyler’s Law: Legislation named after California teenager would help prevent fentanyl overdoses

Fentanyl
dea.gov

Tyler’s Law would direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide hospitals with guidance on how emergency rooms can implement fentanyl testing in their routine drug screens.

The bill is named for Tyler Shamash, a Los Angeles teenager who died of an overdose in part because, unbeknownst to the physician, he was not tested for fentanyl upon being checked into the emergency room.

Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia is cosponsoring the legislation. The legislation was made law in California in 2024.

“We know fentanyl is deadlier than other substances. After hearing that a Fairfax County teenager’s family had to learn from the medical examiner after his death instead of when he was alive in the emergency room that he was experiencing a fentanyl overdose, I’m proud to cosponsor Tyler’s Law,” Warner said. “While this law will never bring back Malcolm Kent, Tyler Shamash or the thousands we’ve lost too soon to overdoses, in their memory I am glad to push to save more lives by instituting more robust guidance on testing for fentanyl during a suspected overdose.”

In January 2023, Malcolm Kent, a 17-year-old Fairfax County resident, went to the emergency room while experiencing an overdose but was not tested for fentanyl. He died of a fentanyl overdose shortly after being discharged. His mother, Thurraya Kent, has advocated for robust measures to test for fentanyl in emergency rooms and expand access to treatment.

Tyler’s Law would direct the Secretary of HHS to:

  • Complete a study to determine how frequently emergency rooms are currently testing for fentanyl when patients come in for an overdose, as well as the associated costs and benefits/risks, and
  • Issue guidance to hospitals on implementing fentanyl testing in emergency rooms.

In 2022, 1,967 Virginians died due to overdose of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, accounting for nearly 79 percent of all drug overdose deaths in Virginia. Nationally, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were responsible for just more than 63 percent of all drug overdose deaths that year. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, fentanyl has more than doubled overdose deaths among children ages 12 to 17.

Warner has consistently pushed for robust action to address the opioid epidemic, particularly by expanding telehealth so more Virginians experiencing substance use disorder can access treatment. He leads the TREATS Act, which would permanently (and without any special registration) allow telehealth prescribing of controlled substances to treat opioid use disorder, such as buprenorphine. He also repeatedly pushed the DEA to preserve pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities and create a special registration  so that quality providers can permanently prescribe controlled substances safely via telehealth. To address trafficking, he recently celebrated passage of the FEND Off Fentanyl Act, a sanctions and anti-money laundering law that targets fentanyl traffickers. He also introduced the Stop Fentanyl at the Border Act, legislation that would increase staffing capacity and technology to detect drugs that are being smuggled through points of entry.

Tyler’s Law is led by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mike Braun of Indiana, and also cosponsored by Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Todd Young of Indiana and Alex Padilla of California.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.