Advocates Hope New Funding Will Help End Texas Opioid Epidemic | News

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AUSTIN – As Texas officials continue to demand compensation from opioid manufacturers and distributors, advocacy groups on the ground are cautiously optimistic about what the settlements money might mean to end, or at least fight , the opioid epidemic.

In 2021, Texas entered into several agreements with manufacturers and distributors of opioid drugs, including Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen and most recently Endo Pharmaceuticals for their role in perpetuating the opioid epidemic that in 2018 killed over 1,400 Texans, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

That same year, providers in Texas wrote 47.2 opioid prescriptions per 100 state residents, the data showed.

“Many Texans suffer from drug addiction and need significant support and treatment to avoid becoming another statistic,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said. “My office will continue to hold the companies that have contributed to this crisis accountable and ensure that sufficient funds flow into Texas to provide much needed relief to our citizens. “

With these regulations, the state is expected to bring in around $ 2 billion in cash, much of which will go to the Texas Opioid Abatement Fund, created in the 87th Legislature to manage payments received by the state from opioid manufacturers and distributors. . The established fund will ensure that settlement money is fairly allocated and spent to address the opioid crisis using effective and cost-effective methods, according to the state’s website.

Records show that at least 70% of the money awarded will be sent to the fund.

As of the Jan. 2 deadline, more than 480 counties and cities in Texas had pledged to receive some kind of help from the fund, as part of the multi-state effort to hold businesses accountable. The Texas Opioid Council has been tasked with deciding how and where this money will be spent.

“It is time for us to come together again as only Texans can, maximize our recovery and take care of our citizens so that we can serve as an example to the rest of the country,” said Paxton.

Jennifer Sharpe Potter, professor of psychiatry at UT Health San Antonio, said she hopes the money will help move the state forward in how it views and treats opioid addiction.

Potter, who runs Recovery Texas – a website that offers access to immediate peer-to-peer support services – and Be Well Texas Clinic – which hosts several recovery programs, including a 24-hour vision clinic, said she thought money could be transformative. in how the state treats substance use disorders by removing some of the many barriers.

One of the main barriers, she said, is accessing affordable and effective treatment, which her programs seek to address.

According to the National Institute of Health, treatment with methadone, used to treat drug addiction, costs about $ 4,700 per year. This involves daily visits and includes medication as well as integrated psychosocial and medical support services. Buprenorphine, given to stable patients through certified opioid treatment programs, can cost nearly $ 6,000 per year, including drugs and twice-weekly visits, he said.

“We know how to treat opioid use disorder. What we don’t do well is how to get this treatment out into the communities, ”Potter said.

Harris County, the most populous county in the state, recorded the highest number of opioid-related deaths in 2019 at 564, according to data from the Texas State Department. Next are the counties of Dallas, Bexar, Tarrant and Travis, respectively.

Suzanne Jarvis, director of data analysis and programs at the Houston Recovery Center, said another big barrier facing opioid use disorders is the stigma associated with drug use.

Jarvis said that since there are few health issues that negatively affect life, such as loss of housing or a job equivalent to an opioid use disorder, it can be difficult for society to view it as a treatable disorder and not as a moral failure.

“It’s a chronic health problem that can be managed over time, [but] it has to be seen and treated that way, ”she said. “We don’t punish diabetics when their sugars are turned off. “

Jarvis said she hopes state funding will be used to align policies and programs across political, social and medical structures in a way that produces better human health outcomes.

This, she said, begins with education, as opioid use disorders are a preventable health problem often due to genetic and social factors. Then, if someone needs treatment, make sure it’s fast and affordable.

“I just think the more open and educated we are, the better the solutions that will come for all of us,” she said.

Jarvis added that with the funding, she hopes the council will allocate the money based on what is most needed. In doing so, she said she hoped the council would work directly with advocates and communities to assess their needs and the best approaches for their communities, as they vary widely.

“It’s very difficult to do, but it creates an opportunity to channel funds towards the best value for money,” Jarvis said.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar will be the board’s executive director. His office was not immediately available to confirm when the council will meet or when the money will be available.

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