A UT Tyler Professor briefed the Henderson County Commissioners Court Tuesday on efforts to curb the local grip of opioid addiction.
"The main thing that we're here to do today is just to raise the awareness of what the situation looks like," said Dr. Harrison Ndetan, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and part of the Henderson County Substance and Opioid Control group.
“Within the counties in Texas, over 240 counties, Henderson County ranks among the top 6% of opioid and substance abuse problems,” he said.
There have been isolated actions to combat the opioid problem in East Texas, but no concerted effort.
"Something like this requires a community action," Ndetan said. "That's important for us to be able to push it forward."
When COVID broke out, health officials could see it would only increase the opioid problem.
People felt isolated and their social networks broke down.
"They looked for solace from substance abuse and opioid abuse," Ndetan said.
Fighting the misuse of opioids requires resources. The Henderson County Substance and Opioid Control Coalition was awarded $1 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration to combat the crisis.
Ndetan said they need to put the money to use, because the government is not likely to fund future efforts if this grant is not used to achieve the targeted goal.
"Because we are of a rural nature, the services to address these types of issues are just not available in the rural part of Texas," County Judge Wade McKinney said.
One aspect of the opioid problems is it is harder to identify those who are addicted than methamphetamine or other drugs.
"It is actually a gateway into the illicit drug abuse that we see more commonly," McKinney said. "Opioids will affect individuals and you'll never see it."
Henderson CoSOC is a collaboration of four consortium organizations: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, led by Dr. Harrison Ndetan, principal investigator and project director, and Dr. Emmanuel Elueze, co-principal investigator and chair of the East Texas Opioid and Substance Abuse Control Coalition; UT Health East Texas Athens, led by Dr. Richard David; East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, led by Linda Oyer; Henderson HELP Center, led by Leslie Saunders and a new collaboration with the East Texas Community Clinic under the leadership of Glen Robertson.