Ask anyone in Texas, and they’ll probably tell you there is no problem with opioids in their state. It’s the 13th happiest state to live in, the cost of living is enviably low, and at a state level, they are not the worst affected by drug abuse, especially when compared to states like West Virginia. With one of the lowest overdose rates in the country, there has been no cause for panic.
Lucas Hill, clinical assistant professor of health outcomes and pharmacy practice at Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas, tends to disagree.
“In Texas I get pushback. People tell me we don’t really have a problem,” he shared with Robyn Ross in a feature for Alcalde. Hill thinks that there is a significant issue with opioids in Texas, but we just aren’t seeing it.
At first glance, Texas has managed to avoid the pitfalls of the growing opioid epidemic. I decided to take a more in-depth look and what I found were some facts which demonstrate there should be cause for concern.
Location, location, location
The first logical place to begin my assessment was location. Texas shares a border with three states which boast higher than average overdose rates as well as another country which is notorious for drug trafficking.
Not to mention, the Texas cities which have been most affected by drugs are also close in proximity to either a border, significant interstates, or both. The same towns also happen to be in the top 25 for opioid abuse problems (Texarkana, Odessa, Longview, and Amarillo).
What about the oil boom?
What is even more surprising is that some of these areas are currently or have recently experienced an economic boom, particularly in Midland County Texas. Along with it, a rise in substance abuse.
The “shale revolution” has brought heaps of new employment opportunities to the Midland County area but the long hours and overall danger of the job drive many to drug use.
“It’s easy to get back into that mentality,” said Joe Forsythe, of Midland, Texas, a recovering meth addict. “I’d work 24 hours … I was just plagued with fatigue and needed something to improve my work ethic.”
Meth is the drug of choice among industrial workers, but alcohol, cocaine, and opioids are still a go-to.
In a report from Reuters, all the major oil companies declined to comment when asked about the surge in drug use by oil rig workers.
Increased crime rates
After assessing the locations which have been most affected by opioid abuse, my next endeavor was to explore the crime rates in these areas. What I found was shocking. Despite the fact that metro areas like Odessa have benefited from a recent surge in economic growth, crime rates have increased, especially violent crimes.
“The biggest predictor of committing a criminal act is being young, male, and relatively low-skilled. And when you have these big natural resource booms, you’re attracting lots and lots of those people to your community,” shared John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. As a result, it is not organized criminals driving up crime rates as much as it is likely younger men looking for work, Roman said.1
Which lead me to my next question; are any of these crimes drug-related? According to Odessa Police Department data, drug charges in the town of Midland more than doubled between 2012 and 2016.2
“We had ten homicides here in Odessa last year, and I believe 8 or 9 of those were drug-related,” said Steve LeSueur, the spokesperson for the Odessa Police Department.3
Inaccurate overdose data
So how does a state that has been perfectly positioned to become a hotbed for drug addiction dodge the growing health crisis? Evidence points to the incorrect classification of deaths caused by drug overdose. Only 13 out of the 254 counties in Texas have a medical examiner who determines the cause of death when someone dies outside of a hospital setting. In conclusion, it’s entirely possible that the overdose rates in Texas are not accurate.
Supply and demand
Fentanyl has presented another extremely life-threatening problem for some states, in Texas not so much. One reason for this is that Fentanyl is far more difficult to mix with the type of heroin that is popular in the area (black tar). This hurdle has the illegal drug industry bustling around to find a solution. With white powder heroin beginning to make its way around the state, it could be only a matter of time before they find one.
It’s not all about opioids
There is a substantial “opioid only” narrative going on right now. However, opioids are not the only drugs affecting the state. The reality is that as a country we are still struggling with how to deal with addiction as a whole. In particular, meth has remained a growing problem in the Longhorn state, and due to increased demand, it’s easier than ever to get a hold of.
It’s no wonder that these cities are also some which have been most affected by the drug epidemic. Here’s hoping they look to states like Ohio and West Virginia and take appropriate measures to prevent the opioid crisis from claiming even more lives.
Texas is taking motions to combat the opioid epidemic and to prevent it from taking over the state as so many like Ohio and West Virginia have done in recent years. Stay tuned for a follow blog on what actions they are taking.