The Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday heard some startling numbers about opioid use in the city and Tarrant County, including that local opioid-related deaths more than doubled between 2010 and 2016 and that 1 in 3 residents entering MHMR Tarrant County treatment services in 2015 and 2016 were for opioid-related substance abuse.
In Tarrant County in 2016, the opioid-related death rate was 4.9 per 100,000 people, up from 2 deaths per 100,000 in 2010. The state's average was 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people, ranking it among the lowest in the nation. West Virginia leads the nation with 47.9 deaths per 100,000 people, statistics show.
"On a national scale, you can actually put it in perspective that maybe we're not as bad off as some of the other states," said Fort Worth Deputy Police Chief Robert Alldredge. "We are seeing some increases, and that's enough for us to start paying attention to it."
District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, said it would be worth learning why some areas of the country have high opioid-related deaths.
"If we see this taking over a community, and we know three, four years down the road what happens in that community, we can learn from that. I fear it's coming."
Mayor Betsy Price said the city would have access to a lot of data gathered in the past six years as the opioid crisis exploded across the nation.
"Despite the fact we're doing very well on this, we still have major issues of substance abuse," she said.
The number of overdose patients keeps growing. In 2017, MedStar, the city's ambulance service, responded to 1,062 opioid and other illegal narcotic overdose calls in its service areas, of which 1,047 were given doses of Narcan, an opioid antidote.
That's up from 533 narcotic overdose calls in 2015, Alldredge said.
Fort Worth police have administered two doses of Narcan this year and the goal is to expand it to other officers, Allredge said.
Fort Worth police have partnered with the Drug Enforcement Agency and has an officer embedded in a tactical diversion squad targeting the doctors and pharmacies illegally distributing opioids in North Texas.
So far, that task force has shut down three doctors' offices and two pharmacies, investigated 20 pharmacies for regulatory violations and conducted 47 undercover opioid-related operations. In addition, four doctors and two pharmacies have surrendered their DEA registrations and can no longer issue prescriptions for controlled substances.
Several arrests have been made, among them a Fort Worth doctor, a dentist and five people on burglary charges at Fort Worth pharmacies, he said.
Alldredge, though, said as it gets harder to get opioids, users are turning to heroin, which is cheaper, and to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.
"One thing that really concerns us a little more greatly is fentanyl. It's extremely more potent," Alldredge said.
The Fort Worth Fire Department started administering Narcan in February 2017 and the first dose was given by paramedics two months later. Since then, the department has responded to 596 opioid-related and narcotic overdose calls and 40 doses of Narcan was given, said Homer Robertson, an assistant fire chief.
In response, MHMR Tarrant County started the Tarrant Opiate Reduction and Recovery Initiative, Alldredge said.