Year after year, fentanyl has contributed to countless overdose deaths in Texas. In 2018, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, deaths involving synthetic opioids remained steady, with 358 reported deaths. In 2019, according to Texas Health Data, synthetic opioids were connected to 381 overdose deaths. The top five counties hardest hit were Harris, Dallas, Travis, El Paso, and Bexar Counties. In 2019, the National Public Radio reported that fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths were up 113% on average each year from 2013 to 2016. Cheap fentanyl is added to illicit drugs, increasing the risk of overdose.
Fentanyl and Synthetic Opioids are Driving the Opioid Epidemic in Texas
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. When someone overdoses on fentanyl, their breathing can slow or stop, decreasing the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain causing hypoxia. Hypoxia leads to coma, permanent brain damage, and even death. Drug dealers in Texas are mixing cheaper fentanyl with other drugs like heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and methamphetamine.
According to the DEA, illicit fentanyl is one of the primary drugs fueling the epidemic of overdose deaths across the nation. In 2019, 26% of illicit fentanyl tablets contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, which increased from 14% and 10% the two years prior. Overall, overdose deaths involving fentanyl continue to rise. The recent increase in drug overdose mortality began in 2019 and continued into 2020, with the pandemic fueling the problem. Synthetic opioids have been the primary driver in the rise in overdose deaths in Texas. According to the CDC, nationally, the 12-month count of synthetic opioid deaths increased by 38.4% from 12 months ending June 2019, compared with the 12 months ending in May 2020.
Problems with fentanyl overdose in Texas are connected to people using multiple drugs. Most addicts became addicted to pain medication through a prescription, eventually leading to street drug addiction. However, polysubstance use is more common where drug users use combinations of drugs and use drugs laced with fentanyl. People of all ages, races, and ethnicities in Texas are being impacted by fentanyl.
The drug is found in the suburbs, rural areas, and farming communities across the state. In addition, it continues to grow in use within urban cities at alarming rates. However, the fentanyl problem has been growing in Texas long before it was making regular news headlines. According to the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, reports between June 2019 and May 2020, there was more than a 50% increase in synthetic opioid deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
Texas lawmakers brought forward legislation that criminalizes the sale or delivery of fentanyl. In addition, the state budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars for substance use treatment, opioid use prevention programs, and increased access to medication-assisted treatment. Early intervention is crucial to prevent fentanyl overdose because of the risk of street drugs laced with fentanyl. Substance use treatment and medical detox or an opioid treatment program in Texas are the most effective rehabilitation options.