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All hands on deck in fighting opioid crisis

Column by Commissioner Terry Cook

  • 20 October 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2107
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Medical providers now are seeing marijuana users suffering from withdrawal; this means that even “weed” is being spiked with fentanyl. Synthetic opioids, tainted with fentanyl, are being colored and pressed to resemble commonly available prescription drugs such as Xanax, Percocet or Adderall and even stamped with the legal manufacturer’s branding. The only “safe” pill is one prescribed by medical professionals and dispensed by licensed pharmacists and taken as prescribed.

Russell Dreyer, community liaison for the Jollyville Fire Department (Anderson Mill Road) reported that it is not uncommon for the staff to be awakened at night by people knocking on their door seeking Narcan for a friend.

Bluebonnet Trails, Wilco’s Mental Health Authority, is now the principal supplier of Narcan to the county’s first responders, school districts and parents of at-risk children. The pandemic disrupted the supply channel for Narcan manufacturing, and prices made it out-of-reach for most of two years; up to $135 for a single dose, now down to about $47.50 for two-dose units. Using a COVID relief fund grant, Bluebonnet has distributed more than 1,000 Narcan two-dose units throughout the county to school personnel, first responders and friends and family members of those with substance use disorders. Records do not reflect all Narcan use and reports of overdoses, but occurrences have been reported in small communities like Coupland, Thrall, Florence and Weir, and in every larger city and community.  Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of teenage deaths, surpassing suicide, the long-time leader in this age group. A September American-Statesman story on the Hays County teenage deaths from overdoses reported that fentanyl rainbow-colored pills are circulating in the community.

The Statesman also reported in August that there are two Narcan vending machines in Austin where anyone, at no cost to them, can obtain single-use bottles of Narcan nasal spray. Em Gray, organizer of the NICE Project, which stands for Narcan in Case of Emergency, believed she had initially obtained sufficient inventory of Narcan to last a few months but found the supply exhausted in the first week. Austin and Travis County have declared opioid overdoses as a public health crisis. Overdose deaths are now the leading cause of accidental deaths ahead of car crashes or falls for youths. Across the state, the More Narcan Please state-funded program exhausted its finances in just a few months. The state’s new fiscal year adds $5.6 million additional funding to this program.

For seven years, Williamson County has held an Overdose Awareness Day at the Lakeside Pavilion in Old Settlers Park. It brings together family members and those in recovery on an August morning to support each other in their grief and/or recovery. Brad Stutzman wrote a moving piece in the Aug. 31 Williamson County Sun on this year’s program of shared stories, stressing the message that “one pill can kill.”  It is always open to the public and closes with each attendant tossing flowers into the nearby lake in honor of those lost. Many bring pictures of their lost loved ones to share. This year, one especially striking picture was of two young girls standing by a casket of their dad. They had lost both parents — only a few years apart — to overdoses. 

With accidental overdoses killing many young people, what are the school districts doing to raise the alarm among their students and their families? The Taylor Press recently reported steps the Hutto schools and staff have taken to combat possible onsite overdoses. Staff and teachers have been trained in the use of Narcan and their nurses’ “go bags” are stocked with it. Their message to raise families’ awareness is: be informed, be aware and talk with your kids.

Likewise, first responders across the county have Narcan and are skilled in its use. Amy Jarosek, a member of the Williamson County Community Health Paramedics Program, spends the majority of her working life in the community addressing harm reduction among vulnerable populations. "Narcan is a lifesaving medication," she said. "Our team has seen the positive impact of the medication provided by public safety entities across the county. It also affords our team the time to then collaborate with our partners to reach out and offer more long-term services to those who are struggling (with addiction) and the families who struggle alongside them.” 

Of course, as stated earlier, Narcan must be applied prior to a heart attack, which may occur when the breathing becomes severely suppressed.

Addiction does not care about your education, age, income, status or where you live; it can kill.  And now in this epidemic of fentanyl-tainted street drugs, that single pill may be the first or last you’ve ever purchased and taken.

Although illegal in half of the states, fentanyl test strips can save lives. We must overcome the false narrative that we are condoning drug use by allowing distribution of these strips and instead think of human lives with potential for recovery. Write or call your Texas legislators and members of Congress and urge them to legalize these life-saving test strips.

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