Drug overdose deaths jumped in Texas as the pandemic took its toll

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 6:43 PM CDT
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(KWTX) – More than 4,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020 in Texas, a 33% increase from the year before, while nationwide overdoses claimed the lives of more than 93,000 people, a 30% increase and the most ever recorded, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts say the rise in drug deaths is connected to the mental and physical toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Panic, PTSD, anxiety, insomnia, depression, bipolar flares, even psychotic conditions. We are seeing so much of an explosion of mental health problems that have happened and part of that is even from the physical problems of COVID,” Waco family physician Dr. Tim Martindale said Thursday.

“A lot of this problem with the opioid crisis that’s increased substantially over this past year is directly due to the general effect of the pandemic on society and the specific ways it’s affected each individual’s health.”

The problem is exacerbated by the addition of the potent drug fentanyl to other illicit drugs including methamphetamine and cocaine, making a normal dose of the unadulterated drug lethal.

“Fentanyl is the most dangerous,” Martindale said.

“It tends to stop your breathing right where you are.”

Waco police are dealing with the problem on the street.

“We are seeing more drug use in general across the city,” said police spokeswoman Cierra Shipley.

“Our Drug Enforcement Unit is constantly working…trying to find where that drug use is and where those suppliers are,” Shipley said.

Prescribed drugs are not the focus of the CDC’s report, but Martindale acknowledges it’s also important to make sure doctors are prescribing responsibly.

“We need to be aware of the fact that if we are not careful, we can get you to the point that you are dependent on those so that’s our job to be careful and responsible with you,” Martindale said.

Martindale says the point is not to stigmatize those who have a legitimate need for opioids, but instead to save the lives of those who use the drugs improperly.

There are also programs in the region to help those who are battling addiction including Heart of Texas Region MHMR, which serves Bosque, McLennan, Hill, Falls, Limestone and Freestone counties, and Central Counties Services, which serves Bell, Coryell, Hamilton, Lampasas and Milam counties.

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