Despite the fact that Texas has a low rate of opioid overdose deaths compared to the national average, the opioid epidemic still rages in the state. The number of opioid overdose deaths in Texas has significantly increased within the last decade, due mainly to heroin and fentanyl.
Heroin Abuse In Texas
Most of the heroin in Texas comes from Mexico. It is a black tar substance that can be mixed in water for injection or brown powder that has been cut with diphenhydramine (an antihistamine found in Benadryl), lactase, or another agent that can be snorted (insufflated).
Heroin was responsible for 530 overdose deaths in 2016, just behind methamphetamine and cocaine and just ahead of prescription painkillers as one of the deadliest drugs in the state.
A recent study of drug use in Texas found that the people who were dying from a heroin overdose, as well as those who entered treatment for heroin addiction, are getting younger every year.
Fentanyl And Texas Overdose Deaths
Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid drug that is responsible for a significant rise in overdose deaths across the country. A much smaller amount of fentanyl can produce the same effect as heroin, and only 2 mg of it can be deadly.
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Some drug manufacturers or dealers cut heroin with fentanyl without the knowledge of their buyers, leading to accidental overdoses. This is usually done with white-powdered heroin, which looks the same as fentanyl but is not common in Texas.
Overdose deaths involving fentanyl in Texas are more often attributed to cocaine or methamphetamine that is laced with the drug. There were three times as many fentanyl-related deaths in Texas in 2017 than in 2007, which indicates a rapidly growing problem.
Texas Opioid Prescription Rates
Texas has an opioid prescription rate that is close to the national average at 53.1 prescriptions for every 100 people. Many individuals who begin taking opioid painkillers develop an addiction to them because of overprescribing or a lack of knowledge of the risks.
Prescription drugs are expensive and difficult to obtain, especially when taken in excess of a doctor’s recommendation. Some people in Texas turn to heroin or other street drugs when they can no longer afford or access prescription opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) or hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco).
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome In Texas
Opioid abuse does not only affect the individual using drugs. Women in Texas who use opioids during pregnancy can pass along the effects to their unborn child. This often results in the infant being born addicted to opioids and going through the stress of withdrawals.
This condition is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). There were five times as many cases of NAS in Texas in 2014 than in 2004, indicating a dramatic rise in opioid abuse among pregnant women in the state.
Heroin And Opioid Abuse Prevention In Texas
The opioid epidemic in Texas has not gone unnoticed. Government agencies, pharmacies, and other organizations have initiated programs that fight opioid addiction.
Texas Prescription Monitoring Programs
Prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) in Texas require pharmacies to keep a record of every Schedule II, III, IV, and V substance they dispense. This monitors how many opioids are prescribed in the state. It also allows a pharmacist to look at a person’s prescription history before providing opioid refills.
This database is available to doctors, too, so they do not overprescribe. Some individuals who are addicted to opioids visit multiple doctors for more prescriptions. With prescription drug monitoring, “doctor shopping” raises a red flag to the people in control of prescribing opioids.
Naloxone Availability And Training In Texas
Naloxone is an opioid-overdose reversal agent. It blocks opioid receptors in the brain to temporarily stop the effects of opioids. This has saved many people’s lives as they wait for emergency medical attention after an opioid overdose.
Formerly a prescription-only substance, naloxone is now available over-the-counter as a nasal spray (Narcan) or injection at many pharmacies in Texas, including all Walgreens and CVS locations.
This is helpful for people who are addicted to opioids, those who are unintentionally exposed to fentanyl, and even those taking an opioid prescription who may accidentally take too much.
Many first responders in Texas carry Narcan, and many pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and healthcare students are also trained in how to administer naloxone properly.
Texas Safe Drug Disposal Locations
Texas has locations across the state that take back unused prescription opioids and dispose of them safely. This helps to prevent opioid abuse by removing the excess drugs from a person’s home to a place where no one else can come across them and abuse them.
Syringe Exchange Programs In Texas
Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) provide safe syringe disposal and clean needles for people who inject drugs like heroin. The goal is to prevent bacterial infections and the spread of disease from dirty and shared needles.
Texas is one of 16 states that prohibit SEPs. Many Texas residents are fighting to legalize these controversial programs because they provide access to treatment resources for people who otherwise would not seek help for opioid addiction.
Treatment For Heroin And Opioid Addiction
Usually, people who are addicted to opioids are also physically dependent on them, meaning that their body relies on the drugs to operate normally. Treatment for heroin and opioid addiction often begins with a medically supervised detox program, which provides around-the-clock monitoring to keep a person stable through the withdrawal process.
Even after detox, opioid cravings may be so intense that they interfere with treatment progress. At Vertava Health of Texas, we offer medication-assisted treatment with Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) when appropriate. This helps to reduce cravings so a person can focus on recovery.
Residential addiction treatment at Vertava Health of Texas is individualized and multidisciplinary. We use yoga, meditation, and other stress management techniques to help people learn to relax without opioids. We also offer a wilderness rehab program, behavioral therapy, and evidence-based practices that encourage holistic healing and a whole-life change.
- City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District — Public Health: Responding to the Opioid Epidemic
- Houston Chronicle — Texas deaths from drug overdoses spiking
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Texas Opioid Summary
- Texas State Board of Pharmacy — Texas Prescription Monitoring Program
- The Texas Tribune — Anti-Overdose Drug Becoming Easily Available