Local efforts to combat opioid abuse

Published 5:23 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2018

President Donald Trump this week brandished the death penalty as a fitting punishment for drug traffickers fueling the opioid epidemic, according to a national news report.

In Texas, likewise, county and city governments across Texas have been the focus of a legal feeding frenzy as law firms vie to represent them in lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies over the nation’s deadly opioid crisis, according to a Texas Tribune article.

The Orange County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to sue manufacturers and suppliers of opioid drugs, joining other Texas counties that have accused the companies of fueling addictions that have created a public nuisance.

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In Jefferson County, Jeff Branick, county judge, said the commissioners’ court had some previous discussions about suing manufacturers and suppliers. In fact, they will further discuss the item in closed session at their regular meeting Monday afternoon.

He said no public announcement will be made after the closed session.

There were more than 42,000 opioid overdoses in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deadly opioid culprits include prescription painkillers such as Hydrocodone; Oxycontin; fentanyl, a synthetic drug; and heroin.

While there’s been focus on states like Kentucky, Maine, Ohio and West Virginia for the opioid crisis, 1,107 Texans died from opioids in 2016.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced that Texas has been awarded $27.4 million in federal funds to combat opioid use disorders in 2017. The grant, provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will boost Texas’ efforts aimed at preventing and treating prescription and illicit opioid dependence.

Increasing rates of opioid use continue to be an issue nationwide. Of the more than 33,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States in 2015, 1,186 were in Texas.

The federal money will be used for prevention, training, outreach, treatment and recovery support services and will directly help an estimated 14,000 people over a two-year period. Activities include:

  • Expanding capacity and access to opioid treatment sites across the state and eliminating the current waitlist for services.
  • Increasing training and technical assistance to providers and prescribers to ensure use of best practices for preventing and treating opioid addiction.
  • Enhancing recovery services and peer-to-peer supports.
  • Boosting outreach activities by coordinating with state agency partners, crisis teams at Local Mental Health Authorities, HIV outreach workers and peer re-entry pilot programs.

Locally, there were 10 opioid-related deaths in Jefferson County in 2015. Orange County had fewer than 10 that year.