‘If they die, there’s no more chances’: Mom who lost son applauds federal bill to legalize fentanyl test strips

Sen. John Cornyn says the strips save lives, don’t encourage drug use

SAN ANTONIO – “Kyle was an EMT. He was a very good guy, very caring, wanted to always help others,” said Kyle Hinkel’s mom, Christina Villagrana.

Hinkel died of fentanyl poisoning at 28 years old.

After his death, his friends told Villagrana that when they used recreational drugs back in California, they always used fentanyl test strips to avoid the deadly substance.

“He came here to Texas with me in April of 2022 and six weeks later, I found him in his bed and he was not alive anymore,” she said.

Texas is one of a few states where fentanyl strips are still illegal, and considered drug paraphernalia.

One argument that has been made against the test strips and other “harm reduction” practices, is that they may encourage people to do drugs or continue doing drugs.

It’s something substance use specialists and even lawmakers have continually labeled false.

“I think the contrary is true. I think if people can test the drug, they’ll be less inclined to take something that tests positive and it will preserve their life,” said U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

Cornyn has been a champion of the test strips for years.

“I’ve been to six school districts around the state of Texas and visited with parents who lost their children to fentanyl poisoning and it’s become a real cause for concern,” he said.

That’s why Cornyn introduced Senate Bill 2569 in July 2023, which is now headed to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a new update, Cornyn’s team told KSAT they’d already added half a dozen new co-sponsors, both Democrat and Republican, who know fentanyl is now being added to every type of drug, including knockoff prescription pills.

“These are made to look like things like Xanax or Percocet,” Cornyn said. “It’s the number one cause of death for 18-45-year-olds in the United States.”

The Texas legislature took up a similar bill last session, that Villagrana said seemed to have overwhelming support.

“We didn’t actually get a chance to testify because it never went on the floor. When it went to committee, that’s where it stopped,” she said.

Disappointed, Villagrana and other families who lost their children stand ready to help push the federal version.

When asked if she’d go to DC to lobby and testify, she said, “Yeah, I definitely would go to D.C.”

She’d reliver her pain time and time again to stand up for unsuspecting kids as well as people with substance use disorder.

“These people need a chance to get better and if they die, there’s no more chances,” she said.

Those chances are what keep Villagrana going, in the memory of her loving son.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.