In Texas, Overdose Rates Are Undercounted and Access To Treatment Is Complicated

In Texas, Overdose Rates Are Undercounted and Access To Treatment Is Complicated

By The Fix staff 03/06/17

"Somebody needs to keep this in the public eye and maybe it will change, so another family doesn't have to go through what we went through."

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An eye with a Texas flag in the iris and a reddish tattoo of the state of Texas under the eye

The opioid epidemic is often associated with the east coast and mid-west states like Ohio, but drug overdose rates may be drastically under reported in Texas, making accessing drug treatment in the state even more complicated.

Data shows that in 2015 Texas had one of the lowest rates of opioid overdoses in the country, with opioids killing fewer than three people per 100,000. However, a report from the Houston Chronicle shows that the low rates may be in part due to underreporting of drug-related deaths.

For example, in Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth, the medical examiner's office recorded 44 deaths in 2013 involving specific prescription drugs and another 57 fatalities from "mixed drugs,” while the state counted only 24 overdoses.

With inconsistent testing and reporting procedures for overdoses, many opioid-related deaths and Texas go unreported. This can result in the problem of drug addiction in the state seeming less severe, which in turn can hinder funding for prevention and drug treatment programs in Texas.

"Somebody needs to keep this in the public eye and maybe it will change, so another family doesn't have to go through what we went through," said Bari Brochstein-Ruggeri, who lost her 28-year-old daughter to a prescription pill overdose. 

However, there has been some progress in fighting the opioid epidemic in Texas. Last August the legislature passed funding that made the opioid overdose antidote Narcan more widely available, saving lives throughout the states, and allowing Texas opioid addicts to get into treatment.

“They can’t fix their problem if they die,” said Justin Hudman, public affairs division director for the Texas Pharmacy Association. “The only certainty is, if they die they aren’t going to improve their lives.”

However, access to drug treatment in Texas could become more challenging if the current administration repeals the Affordable Care Act. According to a recently study, 152,971 Texans have gained coverage for treatment of substance abuse, including alcoholism and opiate addiction, because of a provision in the law that requires mental health and substance abuse treatment to be covered by insurers.

"It would mean a lot more people ending up in the ERs and jails if they don't have coverage on the front end," said Greg Hansch, public policy director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Texas. For Texans who have a dual diagnosis of mental illness and addiction, comprehensive treatment that addresses their co-occurring disorders is essential in order to get a correct diagnosis and facilitate long-term success.

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