Opioid epidemic impacting the Brazos Valley

Published: Nov. 21, 2017 at 8:46 PM CST
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President Donald Trump declared opioid abuse to be a national public health emergency in October. New numbers obtained by News 3 show that the number of drug overdoses where paramedics were called more than doubled from 2013-2014 in the Brazos Valley.

"It's amazing to me that 85 percent of the world's pain killers are taken by five percent of the world's population, that being Americans in the United States" Bill Roberts said. He's been with the Brazos Valley Council On Alcohol and Substance Abuse for more than two years. In that time, he's seen his organization turn their focus almost entirely to opioid abuse.

"This has become the focus of our funding agency as it has become a national epidemic," Roberts said. Mr. Trump's declaration is effective for 90 days, but it can be renewed after that. It allows the federal government to redirect resources in various ways and expand access to medical services in rural areas.

More than 64,000 people died from an opioid overdose in the United States in 2016. In 2014, more than 50 died in the Brazos Valley. Roberts believes pharmaceutical companies might be partly to blame.

"[There was] just an overabundance from pharmaceutical companies oversupplying, selling to middle men who, because they were taking in that inventory they had to get rid of it and they were putting it in pharmacies in very rural communities," Roberts explained.

The numbers seem back that claim up. In 2014, numbers show that there's one controlled substance prescription per nearly every person in Brazos County. For neighboring counties, that number is higher. In Leon County, it was almost two prescriptions per person.

The number of death from drug poisoning is also up in Brazos County. In 2014, five people per 100,000 died. In 2016, that number climbed to six. The number of overdoses where paramedics responded also rose. In 2014, medics responded to 192 overdose calls. That number was 93 in 2013.

"I'd like to be optimistic," Roberts said, thinking about the future of opioid abuse in the Brazos Valley. He knows that unless something changes, those numbers will only rise. Education, Roberts believes, is one factor in stemming the tide.

"We can educate both the young people as well as their parents of the dangers," Roberts said.

"Hopefully, it will never become the problem that it is in other places."

Authorities also seized a lot of opioids last year. In 2016, 657 pounds of opioids were taken by law enforcement from across the Brazos Valley. That's more than six times as many as in 2015.