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Doctors, local officials offer solutions to address increase in overdose deaths

This month, physicians with the TMA testified before the Texas House Committee on Public Health, asking lawmakers to consider new approaches to tackle this epidemic.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Medical Association (TMA) is sounding the alarm about the increase in overdose deaths in the state.

Physicians with the TMA testified before the Texas House Committee on Public Health on Sept. 13, asking lawmakers to consider new approaches to tackle this epidemic. 

Dr. C.M. Schade was one of the physicians who spoke. He said many overdose deaths are being caused by illegally manufactured fentanyl or IMF.

"Two milligrams, the weight of a mosquito, can be deadly," Dr. Schade said.

The increase in illegally manufactured fentanyl being distributed has happened in the past decade. 

"Each year, opioid prescribing decreases, opioid deaths related to IMF increase. So the tighter the rules are on prescribing that, more people die," Dr. Schade said.

Some of the TMA's recommendations include to ease barriers to prescribe medication to people experiencing chronic pain, improve access to the overdose-countering drug Naloxone or Narcan, and legalize fentanyl testing strips in Texas. Dr. Schade said these things have been proven to work in other states.

"You can't arrest yourself out of this problem because this is not a matter of just trying to arrest everybody, because people are still going to be using pills," Dr. Schade said.

In Travis County, fentanyl led to 118 overdose deaths in 2021. In Hays County, four high school students died of fentanyl overdoses this past summer.

Law enforcement officials said it's hard to tell a real pill from a counterfeit one.

On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order designating Mexican drug cartels as "terrorist organizations." He said he's doing this because of the rising number of Texans overdosing on fentanyl. 

"Fentanyl is killing Texans without or with substance abuse problems," Abbott said. 

According to Abbott, children are being targeted with "rainbow fentanyl pills," which look like candy.

To help fight the drug crisis, Travis County officials declared a public health emergency in May.

"The main thing was we're trying to raise awareness. We did put, I think, about $330,000 into buying additional Naloxone for the county for distribution," County Judge Andy Brown said.

According to the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office report, in 2021, drugs were the leading cause of accidental deaths. Judge Brown said if the trend continues, it'll be the same this year.

"There are hurdles because, frankly, we live in the state of Texas that has laws that make it harder to do this sort of work," Judge Brown said.

Central Health is expanding its options and access to care. It will now begin to offer methadone treatment services for substance use disorder.

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