Rich with culture and local flavor, Austin has proclaimed itself the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Frequently hailed as a diverse community of art, Austin tops national lists and was recently ranked the best metropolitan city to live in by U.S. News and World Report. Despite the awards, Austin has a darker side that could potentially jeopardize the quality of life for a lot of people. Unfortunately, like a lot of other cities in the United States, and like many other parts of Texas, Austin has a rising substance addiction problem.
A Changing Landscape—Drug Addiction In Austin
Too many Texans live with drug abuse and addiction; this is largely fueled by both the opioid crisis and the movement of drugs from Mexico. Along with the rest of Texas, cities like Austin are confronted with a growing need for addiction treatment. Drug treatment is an expected need when you look at the statistics but even more-so when you consider the positive outcomes associated with treatment. Someone in the throes of a substance use disorder or addiction can seem hopeless and helpless but the right kind of treatment can save their lives. To a large extent, the root of Austin’s drug abuse concerns derive from the state itself.
According to the Texas Tribune, from 1999 to 2014 overdose fatalities in Texas rose 80 percent. This was chiefly due to the influx of prescription painkillers and heroin abuse. Consider this against the fact that in 2013, 78,299 individuals were admitted to a substance abuse treatment program in Texas.
From Across The Border—Drug Trafficking In Austin
Mexico ranks high for the production of and trafficking of heroin and is also responsible for moving cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines into the United States. Texas makes up for 66 percent of the U.S. border with Mexico; which as a whole, is an estimated 1,954 miles long. As a result of the extended border, Texas suffers the impact from these illicit drugs, as do many of its cities.
This distribution is so concentrated that Austin is considered part of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). In other words, this is a federally-designated area considered to be a major drug trafficking zone. The Austin HIDTA Task Force (Austin’s very own task force) has been responsible for busting drug operations including cocaine and methamphetamine. In 2011 13 high-level Texas Syndicate members (with ties to Mexican drug trafficking organizations) were arrested in the Austin area for cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.
How Is Austin Affected By Drug Addiction?
Like a lot of other large cities in the United States, Austin is no stranger to the growing threat of drug abuse and addiction. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the city is, drug abuse is accelerating. While other forms of substance abuse remain at a more constant pace, combined, these concerns continue to plague the city’s communities and families in them.
Which Drugs Are The Worst In Austin?
Not every town in the United States has a serious heroin problem, just like not every town has a serious problem with alcohol. Much like the larger cities generally have a problem governing drug epidemics while others don’t. The following describes the most current information on various drugs of abuse in Austin and its outlying communities in Texas, with the majority of information obtained from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism In Austin
Alcohol is one of the most prevalent substance abuse concerns in Texas. In Austin these problems are closely mirrored. According to a 2015 Statesmen article, based on American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) findings, Austin was “the hardest-drinking city in Texas.” The AJPH also found that between 2002 and 2012, “Travis county has the highest rate of overall drinking in the state at 64.4 percent, more than eight percentage points higher than the national average and 12 percentage points higher than the state average.”
Opioid Epidemic In Austin
Like the rest of the U.S. the opioid epidemic has impacted Austin and outlying areas. Opioids can include heroin, Morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, opium and others. Heroin is widely available in Austin and most of the heroin in Texas is either black tar or powdered brown, or a combination of black tar, diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) and other ingredients; the powder is more common in Austin.
Along with heroin, Fentanyl is another serious concern for Austin residents. In spring 2016 a rash of overdoses related to fentanyl swept Austin, causing at least two deaths. Fentanyl is an intense prescription opioid painkiller used by doctors to manage chronic pain. It can be 50 to 100 times more potent than Morphine. Prescription opioids like Fentanyl can be a problem for addiction and abuse whether they’re prescribed or not.
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Prescription opioids were responsible for “more than 183,000 deaths” in the U.S. from 1999 to 2015 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Opioids aren’t the only problem in Austin, although Dilaudid is the most common prescription found in the streets, as reported by DSHS. Also according to DSHS, benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium are also widely popular in Austin, especially in the club scene.
Methamphetamine In Austin
Methamphetamine has gripped Texas to the extent that in 2014 some experts were calling it an epidemic. The El Paso DEA reports that meth seizures increased 37 percent across the state between 2013 and 2015. Meth has become an increasingly large problem in cities like Austin, Dallas, Fort-Worth, Houston and more. Other reports cite that a third of individuals within treatment in this area are addicted to this ravaging drug. Meth is also rumored to be more potent than in years past. Outlined by DSHS, white college students use this drug in high proportions. Meth can be snorted, injected or smoked and is dangerous no matter which way it’s used.
Cocaine Addiction In Austin
Heroin isn’t the only drug being smuggled up from Mexico, and cocaine “is plentiful and of high quality,” according to DSHS, and is increasingly being injected. Cocaine is a high-powered, and highly addictive stimulant that can also be mixed with heroin for a “speedball.” When mixed with opioids, cocaine is even more likely to cause an overdose. Cocaine can be snorted, smoked and injected; although it can also be free based or mixed with baking soda and cooked to make crack. Although in Austin crack is less likely than cocaine to be abused, both of the drugs are highly dangerous and addictive.
Marijuana And Synthetic Cannabinoids In Austin
Marijuana use occurs cross-culturally, but younger populations are more likely to use the drug. In Austin, marijuana comes predominantly from Mexico. There are also grow operations around the state and as it stands it has not been decriminalized in Texas, but it’s in the works. Some of the common traits for a frequent marijuana user is a lowered drive for success. Marijuana can be smoked in raw form although it’s primary drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be extracted from the plant (flower, bud, leaves or stems) to make hash or “wax.” Both hash and wax are more potent than smoking the drug by itself. Marijuana can also be baked into food.
As far as synthetic cannabinoids are concerned, K2 and spice have become an issue in the Austin area. Both with growing popularity in 2016, according to The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work. Reports suggests that these drugs may also be laced into embalming fluid. In 2016, K2 was responsible for sending over 50 individuals to the hospital due to poisoning. At the time this equated to almost three percent of the total poisoning cases for the nation.
Other Commonly Abused Drugs In Austin
While not one of the most predominantly abused drugs, hallucinogens still present a problem throughout Austin. Examples include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD or acid), a synthetic version of acid termed “punk acid” and psilocybin mushrooms (magic mushroom). Inhalants are most typically used by addicted individuals on the street; most commonly paired with alcohol. These include, as listed by DSHS: “Spray paint, gasoline, paint thinner, and products containing toluene (called tolly on the street).”
HIV From Injected Drug Abuse
The Texas Department of Health’s HIV/STD Surveillance Program’s most recent report chronicles instances of transmissible diseases. The most recent findings available were from 2015 when Travis County had 288 cases of HIV, ranking number four in the state. These findings further outline that in adults, injection-related HIV cases are responsible for nearly 3.4 percent of these cases. This means, that in Travis County nearly ten individuals contracted HIV from injecting drugs. This number may seem low but it’s important to remember that HIV can be transmitted from various forms of drug abuse like heroin; where even small numbers can pose a threat to the large population of drug users.
Drug-Related Death Tolls In Austin
Death from drug abuse has hit Austin and Travis County hard. The most recent edition of Chronic Disease in Travis County states that alcohol deaths were second on the list of preventable and accidental causes of death in 2013. This number (of 278 individuals) was nearly quadruple that of motor vehicle accidents. The combined deaths linked to crack, heroin and cocaine (totaling 35 individuals) were only one less than all homicides within this county.
The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Annual Report published findings which, to a certain extent, highlight the prevalence and impact of certain drug-related deaths. While these findings only represent deaths that resulted in an autopsy, and not every death within the county, the results still inform us of the problem at hand.
Traffic Fatalities Linked To Substance Abuse
As previously noted, alcohol abuse is a huge problem in Travis County and the City of Austin. This report touches on this, arguing that significant blood alcohol content (BAC) was present in 38 percent of all autopsied traffic fatalities. Of these the victim:
- Just under nine percent were under the legal limit
- Thirty percent had a BAC between 0.08 percent to 0.16 percent
- Nearly 36 percent had a BAC between 0.17 percent and 0.24 percent
- A quarter had a BAC over 0.24 percent
- Of those deceased, 46 percent who had alcohol in their system were the drivers
- Twenty-five percent were pedestrians
- Twelve percent were motorcycle drivers
- Eleven percent were passengers
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Substance abuse affects not only those who use, but can also affect everyone in the life of a user. These individuals include loved ones and even complete strangers (such as pedestrians). In addition to alcohol, in these fatalities, the drugs most commonly present with alcohol were:
- Marijuana ranked number one at 52 percent
- Cocaine (37 percent)
- Methamphetamine (seven percent)
- Hydrocodone (four percent)
More About Drug-Related Deaths In Austin
Drug-related deaths can be due to overdose, either accidental, intentional or drug use over time. This report cites that:
- Sixty percent of drug-related deaths in Travis County were due to multiple drug toxicity, with the remaining being single drug toxicity.
- Ninety percent of deaths by intoxication were accidental, with the remaining being suicide.
- Drug toxicity was the third highest cause of suicide.
- Accidents by drug toxicity were the third highest cause after motor vehicle accidents and short falls.
- After heart disease, the second highest cause of “natural deaths” by “disease processes” was chronic alcoholism.
These statistics are only a snapshot of the devastation that occurs at the hand of substance abuse and addiction. People are dying every day from addiction and it won’t stop there—addiction will take everything in its path.
What Are The Signs Of Substance Abuse Or Addiction?
Considering the scope of abuse in the City of Austin, it can be helpful to understand the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder. This information may even help to save someone’s life. Sometimes if a person is suffering from a substance use disorder or addiction they:
- Cannot stop, despite a desire or repeated attempts to do so.
- Continues to use despite an awareness of harm and the repercussions.
- Experiences intense urges to use (cravings).
- Begins to negate important tasks or responsibilities, including those relating to their home life, job, or educational commitments.
- Uses drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
- Needs more of a substance to create the same effect or euphoric state (a tolerance).
- Engages in risky behaviors while under the influence or as a means to obtain the substance (i.e. risky sexual behaviors). A person may trade these for drugs or money to purchase them.
- Encounters legal or financial difficulties due to the substance abuse.
- Experiences withdrawal when they suddenly stop using.
By being aware of these signs, you can help a loved one if they are suffering from addiction. This can also help you to examine your own behaviors and potentially recognize areas of concern.
Dangers Of Substance Use Disorders
Any drug— whether alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription medications—has the potential to change the way your body and brain functions. These adverse effects can disrupt your physical, mental, emotional and social health. Substance abuse can cause:
- Interpersonal problems
- Increased risk of accidental injury
- Mental health disorders and mood imbalances
- Illness or disease, including cancer, cardiovascular concerns, infectious disease, stroke and various types of organ damage
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) [when an infant is born with an addiction]
- Overdose or death
These only represent a small percentage of the ways substance abuse can negatively impact a person’s life. Sometimes the best way to avoid these issues or to prevent further damage is to seek treatment.
Providing You And Your Loved Ones With Exceptional Care
Vertava Health of Texas is nestled within a serene landscape only about three hours and 45 minutes away from Austin—or a 55 minute plane ride. Our staff is standing-by to deliver research-proven care to the residents and families of Austin in need of effective and compassionate addiction treatment.
During treatment our clients are invigorated by a beautiful and peaceful natural setting which perfectly complements our holistic drug rehabilitation. Our expert staff can help a person overcome addiction by using the following methods:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Equine Therapy
- Family therapy and support
- Medication-assisted therapies
- Mindfulness and stress management
- Mens and women’s programs
- Motivational interviewing
- Professionals Program
- Treatment for co-occurring disorders
- Aftercare services
In addition to the previously listed treatment methods, we can offer a wide-variety of recreational activities and therapies, including art therapy and adventure therapy. These modes of treatment will stimulate your senses, open your mind and encourage you to look inward to find the root of the problem. While you’re engaged in the dynamic therapies we offer, you will also develop critical coping skills to carry with you into recovery.
We Want To Help You Get Your Life Back
At Vertava Health of Texas, we want you to enjoy the quality of life that Austin has to offer. We understand that the journey to recovery isn’t easy, but we can help make your journey as manageable as possible. In an individualized treatment program, our highly-trained and compassionate staff can help you design your plan of action and make it a reality. Embrace a drug-free life and contact us today.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention — Prescription Opioid Overdose Data | Drug Overdose
- The Texas Tribune — Anti-Overdose Drug Becoming Easily Available
- U.S. News & World Report — 100 Best Places to Live in the USA
- U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center — South Texas High Intensity
- Statesman — Another map reveals Austin as drinking hotbed
- Traviscountytx.gov — The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Annual Report
- Justice.gov — Drug Trafficking Area
- The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work — Substance Abuse Trends In Texas: August 2016