As the widespread use of vaccines has reduced the spread of COVID, we have experienced a dramatic increase in the addiction epidemic. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 11.3 million people in Texas are living with substance abuse disorder in their families. Approximately 100,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the past year. Synthetic opioid deaths increased by 38.4 percent. The highest increases in both usage and deaths are occurring in young adults. Drug overdose deaths have surpassed car crashes and gun violence deaths combined.
The increased death rate from synthetic opioid overdose is largely attributed to the growth in the use of fentanyl, a manufactured opioid. Fentanyl is inexpensive and easy to conceal for transport. Available in pills, powder, and liquid, it is often mistaken for other narcotics by the user. However, fentanyl is deadly, even in small doses. It is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Death from an overdose can be prevented by timely administration of naloxone.
In 2021, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) received a $252.8 million grant for substance abuse prevention and treatment through the American Rescue Plan Act. HHSC recently announced that $23.2 million has been awarded for a public awareness campaign to prevent substance use disorders and help Texans access necessary treatment and services. This campaign will focus on preventing substance use and reaching young adults to improve prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services. Additional grants will be available in the future.
While supply cannot be completely curtailed unless the demand is eliminated, interdiction and enforcement are important tools. Synthetic opioids are usually concealed and transported by automobiles, trucks, planes, and ships, often through ports of entry hidden in legal cargo.
While the $2.9 billion currently being expended by the State of Texas for National Guard and other personnel at the Rio Grande may be effective in lowering illegal immigration, it is not the most efficient method for drug interdiction. We need to focus more law enforcement efforts on the higher levels of drug smuggling through transportation corridors and increase prosecution of these criminals.
There are many elements to the current surge in drug addiction. The prior indiscriminate prescription of opiate medications contributed to the surge, and many experts consider the effects of isolation and disruption during the COVID epidemic to also be a factor. Regardless, increased local awareness and specialized programs will be essential to its reduction. We cannot afford to ignore its human and financial costs. With the ability to impact all facets of our society, counties need to be the leader in this effort.
Naloxone should be distributed, and overdose training should be provided to all law enforcement and EMS attendants. Community leaders should organize substance abuse awareness campaigns. Local treatment providers should be invited to present information at Commissioners Court meetings and other venues.
Additional information is available at www.samhsa.gov and the National Helpline 1-800-662-4357. Together we can stop this deadly addiction epidemic.