Oct 20, 2022 - News

What North Texans are doing about the fentanyl crisis

Illustration of an hourglass full of pills that have almost run out.

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

Deaths related to fentanyl are on the rise in Texas — and medical experts believe most people who died of a fentanyl overdose didn't even know they were consuming the highly potent drug.

Driving the news: Sen. John Cornyn visited Dallas this week for a roundtable discussion with medical providers, the Dallas ISD superintendent, parents whose children died of fentanyl overdoses, law enforcement officials and advocates trying to warn more people about the drug.

The big picture: Anxiety, depression and suicides are increasing among youth across North Texas, fueled in part by extended isolation due to the pandemic. And more people are trying to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, Children's Health president Chris Durovich said.

  • "More than 130,000 kids in our region suffer from an emotional disturbance or an addictive disorder, including substance abuse and dependence," he said.

Context: Fentanyl is usually prescribed for pain management after surgery or for advanced-stage cancer. It's nearly 100 times stronger than morphine, so doctors have to monitor its dosage closely.

Yes, but: Illegally sold fentanyl has intensified a nationwide and statewide addiction crisis.

  • More than 1,600 Texans died from a fentanyl-related overdose in 2021, an 81% increase from 2020. More than 800 Texans have died so far this year, Cornyn said.

Threat level: Cornyn called for a "war on fentanyl," comparing it to America's War on Terror, but he acknowledged there's no silver bullet to fix the problem.

  • "A lot of times, people are taking a drug that they don't realize is in the pill they may be ingesting, or they may be self-medicating because of other underlying issues," he said.
  • And while many local police and fire departments equip first responders with Narcan, funding for the life-saving nasal spray is limited.

Another option: Early intervention.

  • "I guarantee you, every person in this room knows someone in their family or someone within two people of them that suffers from an addiction," said Kathy Travis, whose 25-year-old daughter died of an overdose in 2021.
  • She said she now warns other parents of the risk of fentanyl so they can be better advocates for their children.

What they're doing: Cornyn is trying to pass bipartisan legislation that would fund substance misuse disorder programs and give law enforcement more resources to crack down on the drug.

  • Callie Crow, an EMT-paramedic whose son died in 2020, runs a nonprofit to educate first responders on how to identify an overdose and administer an overdose reversal drug.
  • Patricia Hammad, whose daughter died last year after trying to self-medicate her anxiety with a pill that had been laced with fentanyl, used a billboard outside AT&T Stadium at the start of the 2021-22 football season to warn people about the drug.

The bottom line: They hope to prevent other families from experiencing their anguish.


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