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.