Other Voices

Every Texan can play a role in defeating the opioid addiction crisis. Here’s how

The national opioid epidemic affects every community, including North Texas. The opioid-related overdose death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Staggs in Southlake this summer was a highly publicized reminder.

Fort Worth paramedics respond to about three opioid overdoses every day, and nearly 1,500 Texans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2017.

Most deaths don’t make national headlines and, thankfully, the Texas opioid overdose death rate remains below the national average. Still, one death is too many, and countless Texans remain at risk of addiction.

Each of us can do two things to help save lives: Learn to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose and be prepared to take action.

A standing order in Texas allows anyone to walk into a pharmacy and buy naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug also known by its brand name, Narcan. No prescription is needed.

In injection form or a nasal spray, naloxone binds itself to a person’s receptors to reverse and block the effects of opioids. It can quickly restore someone suffering an overdose to normal respiration within a matter of minutes.

The U.S. surgeon general has recognized the importance of naloxone by calling for heightened awareness and availability of the medication. It is quite literally a life-saving drug.

This year, Texas became the first state to offer naloxone for sale online, freeing people from a perceived stigma of buying from their pharmacist. A few clicks on a computer can deliver doses to your doorstep.

To encourage use of naloxone, one of us, Sen. Jane Nelson, authored a new law this year ensuring that good Samaritans who carry overdose reversal drugs are not punished by being denied coverage by life insurance companies.

Of course, solving this crisis means not just saving lives when overdoses happen but preventing opioid abuse in the first place. We are taking important steps to protect Texans.

The Legislature passed several of Nelson’s other bills, including one directing local school health-advisory councils to recommend opioid abuse and addiction curriculums for their school districts and another aimed at preventing opioid abuse by pregnant and postpartum mothers.

The UNT Health Science Center is preparing future providers in its six schools to innovate solutions to the epidemic. The UNTHSC School of Public Health installed a wall-to-wall public educational display detailing factors that fueled the crisis.

Additionally, Scott Walters, UNTHSC’s Regents Professor, was chosen this year for a national leadership role in an aggressive partnership between the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to speed scientific solutions to the national crisis.

The $350 million HEALing Communities Study will implement, test and evaluate a set of proven prevention and treatment strategies, aiming to reduce opioid deaths by at least 40 percent over three years in nearly 70 hard-hit communities. Walters’ role in this extraordinary effort will help to create new prevention models that can benefit our community.

While we seek these broader solutions, we encourage all North Texans to consider whether they should keep naloxone on hand. If you or someone you know has struggled with opioid addiction or even if you have opioids for legitimate medical purposes, you could very well save a life.

Let’s work together to protect North Texas.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, represents District 12, which includes portions of Denton and Tarrant counties. Dr. Michael Williams is an anesthesiologist and President of UNT Health Science Center.