Texas A&M researchers to study opioid use in the Crossroads

A team of investigators is probing the opioid crisis in the Crossroads as part of a $200,000 grant from the federal government.

The team of researchers, based at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, is trying to better understand what the opioid crisis looks like locally and what resources are and aren’t available for people seeking addiction treatment.

“Even determining the scope of opioid use disorder in the area is complicated because there could be a lot of people who are receiving opioids via prescription, but it’s hard to track whether people are abusing prescription drugs,” said Nancy Downing, a forensic nurse and one of the co-principal investigators working on the research.

In all, prescription and illegal opioids have killed more than 430,000 Americans since 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although prescription pills can kill people, the majority of those who are killed by opioids die after overdosing on illegal substances, like heroin. The crisis looks different throughout the U.S. Part of the research team’s objective is to understand how the opioid crisis manifests itself locally.

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Looking only at the number of people who overdose after taking an opiate would show that fewer people die of opioids in Texas than other parts of the country, but that’s not the only way to measure the problem, researchers said.

For example, the research team isn’t just talking to law enforcement and medical providers in the Crossroads. They’re also speaking with case workers who help vulnerable children, who might be at risk of neglect or abuse, to determine how opioid use affects children.

“When we talk to the CPS case workers, they said it’s difficult for them because they can see that there is no difference, really, between a parent who is taking or perhaps even abusing prescription opioids versus one who is taking them illegally or using the illegal versions, but they can’t really do a lot if the medication is a prescription drug,” Downing said. Part of their work, she said, is “even finding ways to measure the scope of the problem.”

The first step of the team’s work is already done. In October, the team hosted 15 focus groups across seven counties and spoke with about 105 people to learn about use of opioids and other drugs in the region. Researchers spoke with emergency medical technicians, nurses at local emergency rooms and more to learn about the various ways opioid use has affected residents. The team is led by Jane Bolin, an attorney, nurse and professor. The other co-principal investigators on the research are Downing, Alva Ferdinand and Cindy Weston.

Jodie Gary, one of the researchers, said difficulty accessing transportation and mental health treatment were common themes that came up in focus group interviews.

“When I look at the big-picture issue that people kept pointing to, there was an overwhelming mental health issue in that there’s a lack of resources in the area,” Gary said.

In particular, the group is focused on how opioid use disorder affects children and whether child abuse, child neglect or neonatal abstinence syndrome are common problems in the region.

Soon, the research team will finish an analysis that outlines what resources the Crossroads region is missing when it comes to tackling opioid abuse. In 2020, the team will work with physicians, counselors and others in the community to develop a plan to address any gaps in opioid use disorder treatment or recovery.

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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Ciara McCarthy covers public health and health care for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Questions, tips, or ideas? Please get in touch: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

(1) comment

Matilda Jane

Recent data from the CDC suggests that illegally manufactured fentanyl, its analogs, and heroin are responsible for well over half of all overdose deaths. Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines are responsible for another third. Deaths related to prescription opioids come next in line, although many of those who died were not the intended recipient of the prescribed medication. In addition, most deaths involve multiple substances that are used in combination, often including alcohol.

The major heroine deaths are coming from fentanyl and carfentanil and cocaine that are being imported from China to the their port on the West Coast, that has no inspection regulations. Carfentanil is so toxic that less then a pin head is lethal. All medicines are made and imported from China with no oversight.

The repercussions of these illegal imports is that people die causing a trickle down effect and stigma to be placed on legal and necessary pain medication, judgements place on doctors that legally prescribe and their patients. This connection has trickled down to even the least of pain medication and management leaving especially the elderly and those that have been crippled by hard worked or injury to suffer pain that leaves them bed ridden and unable to function or have any kind of normal life, and the doctors with good judgement unable to practice. When was the last time you tried to find a good doctor? They have all either retired, left town, run from city to city or have gone into cosmetics to make a living. We undermine ourself because of the latest intolerant, misinformed and cruel fad. Next time you walk through a grocery store stop and look how many people especial the elderly before their years that can not walk, limp in pain or have to use the grocery basket as a makeshift walker. There are not many descent people that would let their dogs go through this kind of pain. Although I have seen neighbors that have let their dog freeze literally to death in the 20 degree weather because they don’t care. It is a horrible sound to hear in the middle of the night.

In the mean time to get by doctors are prescribing tramadol, this is a fancy name for PCP that does little to relieve sever pain and is just as addictive if not worse with side effects . I have a damaged spinal cord, nerve damage, crushed disks, a degenerative spinal column and spinal stenosis. Because of the unbearable pain I am unable to stand more then thirty minutes at a time and not able to sleep more then three to four hours at a time.

The issue with hydrocodone is that some people taking extra Tylenol for relief, this causes death from liver malfunction.

One more thing I don’t believe people understand, is you don’t get high from pain meds when in sever pain unless you are doing hard core pain medication and also drinking alcohol.

Due to the misinformation and phobia surrounding this issue doctors now prefer to do surgery that does not last or work well. I would not consider this option lightly even if I did have insurance or insurance that covers pre-existing. The injection or blocks also cause bone degeneration. There was a time when a doctor would not give more then two injections because of the bone damage it causes.

Those that have never experienced sever pain will never understand. Women, think of it as never ending child birth labor with no medication, spasms and all. It’s easy to endure a few hours, yes. What needs to be understood is the severity of the pain, as it does relate non stop to the rest of your life day and night.

This rant has been typed on a iPhone and I’m a bad speller, please forgive.

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