Bexar County to Launch Major Offensive to Fight Opioid Addiction Deaths

The City of San Antonio will implement a multi part effort to try to bring down the unacceptably high level of opioid overdoses and deaths in the city, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Metro Health Director Dr. Colleen Bridger headed a special committee which has been examining the issue for several months, and she says she was shocked at the depth of the problem.

She says more Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016 than were killed in car accidents in 1972, which was the worst year for motor vehicle fatalities ever, and more Americans than died in the HIV epidemic in its worst year, 1996.  100 Americans die of opioid overdoses every day.

And she says the medical community bears a lot of the blame for the crisis.  She says in the 1990s, doctors focused on pain treatment, considering pain to be the 'fifth vital sign.'

"Everywhere you looked, there was information asking 'what is your pain like, how are you feeling, talk to us if you are in pain," she said.

Dr. Bridger said doctors and hospitals routinely asked patients to 'rate their pain on a scale from one to ten,' and hospitals were graded by regulators on how good a job they did treating patients' pain, leading to a demand for stronger and more effective medications to treat pain.

She said that led to a deluge of Fentanyl laced products on the market, and also prompted street peddlers to branch out into pain killers, leading the current epidemic.

She says the problem will be tackled in several different ways, including law enforcement.

"By the end of December, every single SAPD officer with a badge will have been trained in and know how to use Noloxone, if they come across a person they suspect is suffering from an overdose."  

Noloxone is a drug that reverses the effect of a opioid overdose.

She says non traditional city employees will get similar training, based on a detailed map of where opioid overdoses are taking place.

"The county has provided training to their Bibliotech staff, because we know from the data that too many people are overdosing in library restrooms."

The campaign will also have a major educational component, with one aspect aimed at medical professionals and the other aimed at patients, warning them of the dangers of opioids.  A key component of that campaign will be aimed at pregnant women.  Bexar County has one of the worst rates of newborns addicted to opioids of any county in the state.

Dr. Bridger says one of the reasons Bexar County hasn't been moved to action sooner is that statistics show that the county, and the state, have a relatively low rate of opioid deaths compared with other states.

She suspects those numbers are being 'fudged' by people with an interest in making it appear that the state doesn't have a problem.

She says Texas is one of just a handful of states that don't require a medically trained person to fill out birth certificates.

"What we have are elected or politically appoined individuals who are filling out the death certificate information," she said.  "Sometimes it is in their best interest to be a little bit vague about the cause of death."

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