Opioid addiction: A silent epidemic in East Texas

OxyContin and other prescription pain pills has become prevalent in East Texas over the last four years.

While methamphetamine gets most of the attention in East Texas, experts say opioid addiction is a major and growing drug problem that people here just aren't talking about.

In 2017, Castlight Health, a health-care consulting company, ranked the top 25 U.S. cities for opioid abuse. Most of them were in the South, and two — Texarkana and Longview — were in East Texas. Texarkana also made Castlight’s list of the top 25 cities for opioid prescriptions.

Opioid abuse includes the unauthorized use of Schedule 2 prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, and heroin, an illegal street drug. The opioid epidemic could claim the lives of 1 million Americans by 2020; 175 people a day die from opioid-related drug overdoses.

Prescription painkillers, sold on the street for about twice their retail value, are readily available in Palestine.

“You can walk six blocks in any direction from this building (519 N. Elm St.) and you'll find people who are selling it,'' said Kim, a 40-year-old opioid addict interviewed at the Herald-Press Monday.

A 5 to 10 mg tablet of Vicodin sells on the street for about $10, he said. Suboxone, an opioid used to treat opioid addiction, sells for $25 a strip.

Nationwide, President Trump has declared opioid addiction a public health emergency.

In mid-May, Texas along with six other states, filed a lawsuit against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma for misrepresenting the addictive nature and risks of opioid painkillers, while exaggerating the benefits.

“It's very much addictive,” Kim said. Like other opiods, OxyContin gives user a seductive feeling of euphoria.

Overprescribing prescription painkillers, which started in the late 1990s, has led to the current opioid crisis. Americans consume nearly a third of the world's opioid medication.

Like most opioid addicts, Kim started taking prescription painkillers for medical reasons, after back surgery. He later became addicted. Many opioid addicts graduate to heroin, which is cheaper and more potent than painkiller pills.

Palestine suffers from a lack of treatment centers for opioid addiction. Kim entered a drug treatment center in Dallas.

Only one doctor in Palestine prescribes Suboxone, a medicated assisted treatment with a far higher success rate than traditional treatments.

There are at least two clinics in Tyler offering methadone, an older medicated assisted treatment. Longview and Jacksonville also have methadone clinics.

The East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse serves as a first step for people seeking help. The organization offers substance abuse counseling and refers people to other help.

To reach the council, call 1-800-441-8639.

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