East Texas Has an Opioid Problem, From Prescription

If you think that the drug abuse trend in the great state of Texas has anything to do with its closeness to the Mexican border, you are right. Texas shares a 1,254-mile border with Mexico, which is a big factor in the state's drug problem, especially with the illegal drug heroin.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Texas Drug Threat Assessment, this border area is widely used by the cartels to smuggle illicit substances to the United States. That’s because most of is open, including state parks and this makes it difficult to constantly be monitored by enforcement agencies.

Large quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and meth are trafficked to the country through the border. Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) research shows that the amount of drugs seized by officers in the state – most confiscated near or at the US-Mexico border – consistently surpasses that of any other region in the United States

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But despite the law enforcement effort, cartels still find creative ways of ferrying the drugs across the border, whether it’s through roads, air, rail, water, or underground tunnels. And while smuggling happens anywhere across the border, commercial smuggling is prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico and the Rio Grande River.

Prescription opioids in East Texas

Illicit substances aren’t the only drug problem in Texas. The seemingly safe prescription medicines are also frequently abused and can cause serious issues, like overdose and death. In 2018, there were 14,975 deaths involving prescription opioids in Texas, according to the National Institute on Drug Use. Although the national prescription opioid-involved death rates decreased by nearly 7% from 2018 to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that more than 70% of the 70,630 deaths in 2019 involved opioids.

Prescription drugs produce feelings of calmness and euphoria when taken in large doses. And while they aren’t meant to be taken this way, people may become tolerant over time and begin taking larger doses to feel the effect. This is part of the reason Texas law limits opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 10 days – with no refills allowed. A separate law also mandates physicians to check a state database to track whether patients with moderate to severe pain have already gotten the drugs elsewhere.

The regional needs assessment showed that the lifetime use rates for codeine syrup, Adderall, and benzodiazepines in the south- and northeast Texas were 15.5%, 4.4%, and 4.1%, respectively. Additionally, there were 7 prescriptions per 10 people in northeast Texas compared to 5.2 per 10 people statewide, according to the assessment.

Examples of commonly abused prescription drugs in East Texas include:

Misuse of prescription medicines is widespread, especially among adults and teens. Xanax is particularly prevalent for teens. Houston, which lies in Southeast Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston, is a source city for bulk quantities of pain medicines. Most of the supply comes from diverse activities at Houston’s many illegal pill mills, organized pharmacy theft, and prescription fraud.

Counterfeit pill production

The rise of counterfeit pill production makes the prescription drug situation even worse. Fake Xanax and hydrocodone pills containing fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are increasingly being seized. These impure drugs can have severe side effects and lead to overdose and death in worse cases. In fact, reports show that misused opioids accounted for more deaths than any other drugs save for cocaine.

According to the DEA, fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills remain a leading cause of overdose deaths in East Texas and across the country. As cheap, potent fentanyl infiltrates the heroin markets, the drug will augment and supplant white powder heroin in different markets.

Texas is in the top five states for a total number of opioid-related deaths. It also has the second-highest opioid abuse-related health care costs, amounting to over $1.9 billion, according to the City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s overview. Hundreds of people die of overdose every day, and deaths involving schedule II drugs have outpaced those of heroin and cocaine combined since 2002. The crisis has led several East Texas counties, like Upshur, Titus, and Bowie, to hold drug manufacturers like Pfizer Inc., Purdue Pharma, and Johnson & Johnson responsible for the economic burden of opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction

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Opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, and pain medications are highly addictive because they activate powerful reward centers in the brain. These drugs activate opioid receptors on cells situated in many areas of the spinal cord, brain, and other body organs, particularly those involved in feelings of pleasure and pain. When they attach to these receptors, they block pain signals and flood the body with dopamine. This effect can reinforce the act of using the drug, making one want to repeat the experience.

Long-term use of opioids can cause some people to develop tolerance. In this case, they’ll need higher and more frequent doses to achieve the desired effect. But this causes neurons to adapt so that they only work normally when the drug is present. The absence of the drug causes withdrawal symptoms, some of which are life-threatening. At this point, one is likely to rely on the drug to keep these symptoms at bay.

Treating opioid addiction

Chronic pain patients who develop opioid addiction need medical support to quit using the drugs. There are many inpatient and outpatient facilities in Trinity, Newton, Polk, Port Arthur, Tyler, Texas, etc., dedicated to treating people with addiction. Other programs, like the Deep East Texas Opioid Response Program, can also help with addiction care. Many of these programs use medications like buprenorphine or methadone to help individuals get off of opioids. In cases of opioid overdose, patients are given Naltrexone to flush out receptors to reverse the overdose.

Take advantage of the many resources available in the region to ensure you or your loved one is free from opioid addiction. The East Texas Council on Addiction and Drug Abuse is one such resource that acts as the first step for those seeking help. But you can also contact us today to learn how we can help you get off drugs and lead a clean, healthy life.

Texas is Dealing with Even More Fentanyl Problems

Fentanyl is the newest drug to blame for the growing opioid epidemic in Texas. This might sound odd, considering the drug is medically approved and is often prescribed by doctors. However, statistics show deaths involve fentanyl abuse more now than ever before in the state of Texas

The misuse of opioids, including fentanyl, heroin, and prescription opioids, has reached epidemic proportions in the US, leading to over 69,710 overdose deaths in 2020. This is according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Texas, in particular, has experienced an upsurge in overdose deaths, accounting for over 3,000 deaths in 2020. Moreover, trends in opioid abuse in the state point to worsening problems in the coming years.

What is fentanyl?

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Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid used to treat chronic severe pain or severe pain following surgery. It is a Schedule II drug like morphine, only about 50-100 times more potent. When used under doctor’s supervision, fentanyl has legitimate medical use. However, some people use fentanyl at unprescribed levels, exposing themselves to many issues, like tolerance and addiction.

Fentanyl is highly addictive due to its potency. It’s therefore common for those taking prescription fentanyl to experience dependence that’s characterized by withdrawal symptoms upon stopping. Symptoms like sleep issues, muscle and bone pain, cold flashes, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe cravings are uncomfortable and make it hard for people to stop taking fentanyl.

When these people can no longer access prescription fentanyl, they may turn to the streets for options. Unless they enroll in a treatment programthey might not be able to pull themselves out of the hole. Alcohol or drug addictions are best treated by professionals.

On the streets, fentanyl has nicknames like:

Illegal fentanyl is available in different forms, including nasal sprays, powder, pressed pill, eyedroppers, and dropped onto blotter paper. The risks of drug overdose on fentanyl than other opioids are extremely high due to its potency.

In fact, it is now the number one cause of drug overdose deaths. And to worsen the situation, illegal manufacturers often cut fentanyl into other opioids making it even more potent. Examples of these drugs include heroin and cocaine. The lack of quality control on illegal drug production adds another layer of danger.

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Fentanyl epidemic in Texas

Many drugs are sold on the streets of Texas, but none is doing as much damage as fentanyl. According to statistics, the drug has led to a significant increase in opioid overdoses in recent years. In 2020, drug overdose deaths rose to 93,000 and were mostly fueled by the rise of fentanyl.

The scary part is that this year, the Texas Department of Public Safety seized enough fentanyl to kill everyone in California and Texas combined– a 950% rise compared to last year. Most fentanyl enters Texas through the southern border.

Gov. Greg Abbott believes that President Biden’s border policies are the reason behind Texas’s fentanyl problem that begun in 2020 but drastically increased in the first four months of 2021. According to Abbott, people crossing the border come with things that are not visible to the public yet carry deadly danger.

“2mg of Fentanyl has the power to take a life,” read Gov. Abbott’s tweet. “This year, @TxDPS has seized 95lbs of Fentanyl. That’s 21.5M lethal doses. Biden’s deadly border policies are being felt in communities throughout TX and the country. DPS & @TexasGuard are working on getting these drugs off the streets.”

Organizations that traffic fentanyl typically distribute by kilogram. A Kg of fentanyl can kill up to 500,000 people. Sadly, most people who take street drugs have no idea they contain fentanyl. And even those who know they’re taking fentanyl still have no idea that it has a lethal dose.

According to the Center for Disease Control, synthetic opioids are the main culprits behind overdose deaths in Texas and the country at large, rising 38.4% during 12 month period that ends May 2020. In this period, the DEA reports:

Pandemic and fentanyl overdose deaths

The proximity to the border is not the only factor that fuels fentanyl use in Texas. Different sources say there has been evidence of increased fentanyl use during the pandemic. The disruption of the supply chain forced people to turn to drugs they weren’t familiar with. And the stay-at-home measures meant more people were taking drugs in isolation. Other risk factors for fentanyl addiction include:

Where is the fentanyl coming from?

Most of the illegal drugs that come into the US are cultivated in poppy fields in Mexico. They are then distributed by cartels the DEA describes as the greatest drug traffic threat to the US. These cartels smuggle fentanyl and other drugs in passenger and commercial vehicles and through underground tunnels.

Socioeconomic consequences of fentanyl use

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The fentanyl epidemic is having devastating effects on other aspects of public health. It has led to high rates of HIV, hepatitis C, and other illnesses, mostly because of shared syringes. There are also more cases of pregnant mothers passing opioid dependency on their unborn children.

study performed by HHS researchers revealed that cases of neonatal withdrawal symptoms experienced by newborns exposed to opioids while in the womb skyrocketed to over 80% between 2010 and 2017. Not only that. There’s a good chance that the opioid crisis caused an upsurge in the number of children in foster care.

Besides, those struggling with addiction may suffer a job loss or even end up with legal troubles. Addiction is expensive and often puts a strain on family and friends. After all, only those who care about the patient will provide resources to see one through treatment. In some cases, it’s also the close relations that take the most financial heat – like when the person struggling with addiction spends lots of money or they max out the credit in their pursuit to use.

Treating fentanyl addiction

Fentanyl is one of the strongest opioids and can quickly lead to addiction. It is therefore, crucial to know the risk factors and warning signs of fentanyl addiction. Awareness can help prevent overdose and related deaths and encourage one to get help.

Facilities offering treatment for drug addiction exist to help those who end up with addiction regain control of their lives. There are also support groups to help one stay on the path to long-term recovery.