When you hear news about the opioid epidemic how do you feel? Do you feel worried, hopeful it will change for the better, or does it feel like a problem that’s far away? Many Americans struggle to truly acknowledge a problem until it’s at our door step. While the opioid epidemic affects millions of people from all walks of life, it doesn’t hit home until you or someone you know experiences that loss. Denton County is just one area of Texas where the loss is becoming real.
Texas and the Current Opioid Epidemic
Texas: a place where everything is bigger, the people are friendly, and no food is excluded from being fried. The culture and pride of Texas is deeply rooted in its residents, and while it may be difficult to acknowledge, Texas has not been immune to the opioid epidemic and its devastating effects. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, from 1999-2015 there has been a 253% increase in opioid-related deaths. This number is shocking and many of those deaths could have been prevented. Heroin, prescription pain pills, fentanyl, and other forms of opioids have gotten in the hands of many, whether legally or illegally, and contribute to this number. Legislation and treatment to combat the opioid crisis is being implemented across the country. These include:
- Laws to prevent physicians from overprescribing
- Awareness being raised to reduce the stigma of addiction
- Treatment programs opening up to help people get the help they need
- Educational tools to help people understand the dangers of drugs
Opioid Addiction Awareness
As the opioid epidemic continues to worsen, stories of loss come to the forefront to raise awareness of the crisis. NBC 5, reports a concerning trend in Denton County, Texas. While the numbers of opioid prescriptions being written has reduced, the number of opioid related deaths has increased. Zach Brown, a teenager treated for anxiety and depression with prescription medication, fell victim to this trend more than 4 years ago, yet it still happens today. Mental health is another serious health issue that affects millions across the country, and it is common for people affected by mental health conditions to reach out to a doctor for medical help. One factor that leads to accidental overdose, though, is the combination of medications being taken at the same time. At the time of his death, Zach took hydrocodone, Flexeril® and Xanax®. His mother, now proactive in the community by advocating for those taking prescription medications or suffering from addiction, keeps the conversation alive so that “…others don’t have to suffer.” In addition to deaths from a combination of prescription drugs, many suffering from addiction are moving to heroin as a more readily available and less expensive alternative to prescription opioids. According to Denton County Public Health, the number of prescriptions per 100 people has gone down from 76 to 59. However, “the number of heroin related deaths also continues to rise.” Denton County Health officials how that by talking about these issues, ideas may be sparked that can offer solutions to what may seemingly be an insurmountable problem.
Moving Forward from the Opioid Epidemic
As noted earlier, there are both legislative and grass roots movements in place working to help reduce the death toll of this epidemic, as well as to educate communities about prevention and treatment. Know the signs to look for, if you think you or someone you know might be struggling with addiction and if the signs are similar to what you are experiencing, reach out for help.