Are Prescription Drugs Driving the Opioid Crisis in TX?

Methamphetamine has long been considered the primary drug of choice plaguing communities in East Texas, but the fact is that opioids have been a longstanding problem as well.

Connie Caldwell is the clinical director of the East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (ETCADA). She says: “We’ve always had a problem in this area with opioids, primarily prescription drug use. I have seen all the multiple drug uses that come in, but opioid is specific in that they don’t always present as an opioid user, abuser. Sometimes they come in, (and the main problem is) methamphetamine, alcohol and then they have a prescription, or they’re buying off the street.”

Though heroin – specifically, fentanyl-laced heroin – is the primary issue driving the continuing rise in drug abuse deaths, it is prescription painkillers that are the greatest issue in East Texas. Though not necessarily the drug of choice, people often use painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin in combination with other drugs or as a means of self-medication to manage headaches, aches and pains, boredom, and/or depression.

Dr. Robert Creath is the chief of emergency services at University of Texas Health East Texas. He says: “I’m surprised at how many routinely take narcotics for their problems, and those things are typically Vicodin, (codeine), and tramadol.

“Prescriptive use seems to be much increased over the past several years, compared to what we’ve seen before. We do have heroin in the community, as far as illicit drug use. But the amount of overdoses we see from that is relatively low.”

Rates of calls to Poison Control for assistance with an opioid poisoning were highest per 100,000 residents in Rains, Titus, Camp, and Henderson between 2009 and 2015, according to the Prevention Resource Center 2017 Regional Needs Assessment.

For most people in East Texas, painkiller abuse is not a way to “party” nor is it a way to get and stay high by any means necessary. Area experts say that the most common issue with painkillers occurs when people take painkillers to manage pain associated with an injury or a car accident. People with no substance abuse problem whatsoever are more and more frequently walking away from an acute pain problem with a dependency on painkillers and ultimately developing an addiction as the psychological cravings develop as well.

In a nutshell, this is essentially how the opioid crisis in the United States came into existence. Pharmaceutical companies pushed the medications into doctors’ hands for free and incentivized them to prescribe the pills. Doctors overprescribed them with doses that were too high and prescriptions that were far longer than necessary. People took them until the script was done or put extras in the medicine cabinet for use by them or someone else in the family at a later date. As a result of this chain of events, hundreds of thousands of people over the past decade have developed an opioid addiction that often either killed them due to overdose or caused them to transfer their addiction to heroin, a cheaper opioid that is more readily available despite its illegal status.

Treatment Is the Best Path out of Addiction

Whether you live in East Texas or anywhere else in the world, the best possible way to address a growing or ongoing problem with painkillers is to undergo treatment. A doctor can only assist by stepping down the dose until you are no longer taking the drug, but if you have a psychological dependence on the substance and continue to crave it or struggle with withdrawal symptoms that you want to escape through drug use, then an effective substance abuse treatment program is your best option.

Treatment will help with the cessation of drug use and the ability to stay sober for the long-term. It should include certain services, such as:

  • Medical detox, as needed
  • Peer support and group therapy
  • Individual case management and a tailored treatment plan
  • Access to traditional talk therapies that have been proven to be effective
  • Access to alternative therapies that may be indicated through assessment and continued evaluation
  • Access to holistic care options to round out and support the mind-body connection and growth throughout the treatment process
  • Long-term support and aftercare services to empower transition into independent living in recovery

What do you need to make an impact on your use of painkillers? What kind of treatment services will best serve your ability to get back on track and focused on your life?