The opioid epidemic has not ravaged Texas like it has other states but there is still an urgent crisis, a House committee report warned Friday.
The 108-page report by the Texas House Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse, released just weeks before the start of the 2019 legislative session, outlines challenges and opportunities for the state as it seeks to curb drug addiction among Texans.
In the report, the committee wrote that the data on the opioid crisis and substance use disorders are “alarming” and that the state “faces significant challenges.” While there has been more national focus on states like Kentucky, Maine, Ohio and West Virginia when it comes to opioid addiction, 1,375 Texans died from opioids in 2016, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 3,000 Texans died from opioid and other drug overdoses in 2017, according to the report.
Throughout the report, the committee cited findings from the six hearings it held in the past year, including that more prescription drug monitoring, medication disposal programs, expanded treatment options and cooperation from drug manufacturers would be key to curbing the crisis.
In Parker County, Kevin Hilliard with the Special Crimes Unit said there is opioid abuse in the county, but that it hasn’t risen to the level of some of the major metropolitan areas.
“We see heroin, we see the pills and we see the issues that come along with that, and we do have people doing doctor shopping trying to get painkillers and opioids and yeah, that’s an issue,” Hilliard said.
The SCU is a combined unit with the Parker County Sheriff’s Office and Weatherford Police Department and works mainly in narcotics.
Hilliard has worked in narcotics since 2006 and said there have been changes that have helped the SCU in big ways.
“The main thing that helped us was when the DEA moved hydrocodone from a Schedule III to a Schedule II because that made it where for prescriptions you couldn’t do call-in refills anymore, you have to go back and actually see your doctor,” Hilliard said. “So doctors have a little more control for prescribing pain meds and opioids.”
Hilliard said also since the change, the cost of buying pills has increased and they’re harder to get now.
“So the controls are tighter and it doesn’t seem like there’s as much of it floating around on the street, the people that were getting prescriptions before and selling them it’s so much harder to get them that they’re not getting them to sell anymore. They’re getting them for personal use,” Hilliard said. “Another thing that’s happened is just the education levels of everybody involved. We’ve got a really good working relationship with our pharmacists, so if there’s somebody calling three or four prescriptions in at a time for opioids and the pharmacist thinks there’s a problem, they have no issue calling us and letting us do an investigation into it.”
But Hilliard said opioids are still out there as well as heroin.
“There’s been a lot of talk about heroin use. We do have heroin in Parker County, but what we’re finding on the heroin is usually we have user amounts,” Hilliard said. “We haven’t found that people are bringing large amounts of heroin here for distribution. Almost all of the heroin we find from our users in our search warrants are coming mostly from Fort Worth, some from Dallas.”
Hilliard said for those who are struggling with opioid abuse, there are ways to get help.
“To people that fall into this accidentally that are prescribed painkillers and they start recognizing a dependence, talk to your doctors and let them help,” Hilliard said. “As far as parents, there are all kinds of counseling for kids out here, there are law enforcement resources we can guide them to, the substance abuse treatment centers, there are avenues available.”
Medical City Weatherford is also doing its part to help stop opioid abuse.
“Patient safety is a top priority and that is why we are actively working to reduce opioid administration and substitute therapeutic non-opioid alternatives in patient care plans,” Medical City Chief Medical Officer Dr. Miguel Benet said. “Each emergency room physician, nurse and pharmacist are putting into practice alternative, opioid-free pain management pathways. We are also proactive with patient and family concerns providing educational resources about effective alternatives to these medications. Medical City Healthcare also has behavioral health facilities, including Medical City Green Oaks, which can help patients and families in crisis.”
Benet said in July, Medical City’s parent company HCA Healthcare announced it was a key participant in the National Academy of Medicine Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic.
“Our emergency departments and surgical services are in a strong position to reduce opioid use in a population at high risk for misuse and abuse through effective and alternative strategies,” Benet said.
The Texas committee recommended that high-risk patients in Medicaid, the joint health insurance program for the poor and disabled, be locked into one pharmacy and doctor.
The report acknowledged its recommendations would carry a hefty price tag: An estimated $931.1 million over two years — a big ask as state leadership looks to fund other big ticket items like Medicaid, a school finance overhaul and Hurricane Harvey recovery.
Rep. Four Price, the Amarillo Republican who chairs the substance abuse committee, said in a news release that the panel’s work was “a heavy lift” but its recommendations “can make a positive impact if enacted by the Texas Legislature.”
“I thank my committee colleagues for their diligent commitment to understanding and arriving at substantive policy recommendations to this challenging public health issue that directly affects the lives of many Texans and their families in a very personal manner,” Price said.
Weatherford Democrat reporter Autumn Owens contributed to this report.