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Opioid Task Force Takes On Addiction In Bexar County

Maryland Department of Health
Getting the life-saving drug Naloxone into the hands of police officers and emergency medical personnel could help save people in Bexar County suffering from an opioid overdose.

President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis is urging him to declare the nation’s opioid epidemic a national emergency. Tuesday, Trump was briefed on the drug problem that’s killing a hundred Americans every day. Meanwhile, a new city-county Opioid Task Force met for the first time in San Antonio.

The goal of the new Opioid Task Force is to decrease overdose deaths in Bexar County. 20 people are on the panel, including doctors, emergency workers, dentists and policy makers.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolfe spearheaded the idea.

"The county sees all this stuff on the bad end," he explained. "We’re responsible for jail, for criminality, DA’s office, University Health System. It’s natural that we would jump out first and to try to solve this."

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolfe addresses members of the media to outline the goals of the new Opioid Task Force.


Abuse of prescription drugs like Vicodin and Fentanyl and illicit drugs like heroin have created a deadly problem here, one that San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg calls “insidious.”

"It starts innocently enough in the pursuit of pain relief and often ends in death," he said.

The task force has several objectives including increased use of the life-saving drug called Naloxone which can reverse an overdose. The plan is to get it into the hands of trained paramedics and police officers to administer to people in crisis.

Also, the task force will encourage doctors and dentists to use an online prescription database to track patients’ use of controlled substances. Less than half use the resource now.

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg calls the opioid epidemic an "insidious" problem.


Another idea is to increase opportunities for drug disposal, so unused medications don’t fall into the wrong hands. Plus the task force would like to find a way to create more and better treatment programs for addicts.

Medical Director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, Colleen Bridger, says lessons learned in other states help. "We’ve had the opportunity to watch the rest of the United States for the last 20 years and learn what work and what doesn’t work when it comes to preventing opioid overdose deaths," she commented.

One-third of all opioid addicted babies in Texas are born in San Antonio to women like Yolanda Aldana, who spoke about her problem with Texas Public Radio last fall.

"The more I took it, the more I needed it." The young mother was talking about Vicodin, a prescription pill for her back pain. That source of relief dried up when her doctor stopped prescribing the drug. So she started using heroin.

"I could find it on the streets," she said. "The drug had complete control over me."

Aldana got the help she needed and is free from her addiction. Instead of an exceptional success story, the new task force would like her outcome to be the norm.

The Opioid Task Force will report to County Commissioners and City Council by next September 2018.

Wendy Rigby is a San Antonio native who has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years. She spent two decades at KENS-TV covering health and medical news. Now, she brings her considerable background, experience and passion to Texas Public Radio.