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House Committee Addresses Rise In Opioid-Related Deaths

David Martin Davies

Texas is no stranger to the ongoing opioid epidemic seen across the country. And that is one of the reasons why state lawmakers are trying to determine what laws might be necessary to break the cycle of abuse.

Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the House Select Committee on Opioid and Substance Abuse that here in Texas the number of opioid-related overdoses have also steadily increased over the last 10 years.

“From 1999 to 2007 there was a steep increase in the number of drug overdose deaths, starting at 793 and peaking at over 2,000. Since then, we have remained at 2,000 deaths in any given year,” Hellerstedt said.

Cynthia Humphreys, with the Texas non-profit Association of Substance Abuse Programs, said the typical demographics for an opioid abuser in Texas is a middle-income white suburbanite. And like most addicting drugs, opioid users feel less effects of the drug they are taking the more often they take it and use more often in order to produce the same effects.

During her testimony, Humphreys was asked if the drugs used to taper a person off of opioids also had the potential for abuse.

“You can develop another addiction to that drug or reliance on that drug but at the same time it doesn’t put you on the line or in danger of an overdose,” Humphreys said.

But Humphreys told lawmakers that, at the moment, opioids aren’t as much of an epidemic in Texas as methamphetamines. There were 715 deaths due to methamphetamine in Texas in 2016, as compared with 539 due to heroin, according to a study by the Addiction Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

“There’s a resurgence of methamphetamine that is coming, and Texas is particularly intimate with methamphetamine because basically we have more methamphetamine deaths in this state than we do heroin,” Humphreys said.

During the 2017 session, state lawmakers created two new state laws concerning opioid and drug abuse. One gives the Texas Medical Board the authority to regulate pain management clinics and their opioid prescribing practices. The second bill requires the Texas Medical Board to establish guidelines for opioid antagonist drugs like naloxone or Narcan to treat an overdose.

The House committee is scheduled to meet four more times between now and the start of the 2019 legislative session.

Ryan Poppe can be reached at rpoppe@tpr.org or on Twitter @RyanPoppe1