As a border state, Texas is a popular shipment point for illegal drugs. While many of these drugs end up sold throughout the United States, some end up being used by Texans struggling with addiction. Addiction issues in Texas aren’t limited to illegal narcotics, either. State residents also struggle with prescription drug addiction and alcoholism.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Texas
The latest federal data estimates that 8 percent of Texans abuse marijuana, 2 percent abuse cocaine, and 4 percent abuse pain medications annually. A much higher percentage consumes alcohol, with an estimated 23 percent of Texans reporting binge drinking on a monthly basis. Government officials estimate that approximately 3 percent of state residents qualify as having an alcohol use disorder and almost 2 percent qualify as having a dependence on illegal drugs.
Like many states around the country, Texas has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, in which individuals become addicted to prescription painkillers and other opioid-based drugs. Some opioid users eventually turn to heroin to maintain their addiction when they no longer have access to prescription medications.
Texas Legislation Responds to the Drug & Opioid Crisis
To help, Texas lawmakers have tried to pass new legislation that will make it more difficult for doctors to prescribe opioid medications, as well as strengthen the state’s treatment programs. While some legislation has successfully passed, other efforts have been unable to gather enough support to become law.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of recent legislation focused on the struggle against drug and alcohol addiction in Texas.
- Passed: A law passed in the Texas legislature makes painkiller medications, many of which are highly addictive opioids, only available for 10 days with no refills. There are exceptions to this rule for patients who are using opioid medications for chronic pain or cancer, for example. This law took effect in September 2019.
- Passed: Texas law now requires doctors and pharmacists to look up patients in a state database before filling any prescriptions for controlled substances. These substances include opioid and benzodiazepine medications, both of which can be highly addictive. This law took effect in March 2020.
- Passed: An agreement between the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas cities and counties will allow local jurisdictions to sue opioid manufacturers for oversupplying opioid medications to communities. If the lawsuits are successful, the city or county will receive 15 percent of any funds collected while 70 percent will go to fund local addiction treatment programs.
- Passed: A law passed in 2019 in Texas bans people younger than 18 from buying over-the-counter medications that contain dextromethorphan, a medication commonly found in cough syrup. This law is intended to cut down on abuse of the drug, which can be hallucinogenic in large amounts. Lawmakers feared this drug could lead young people towards “harder” drugs.
- Passed: A law passed in 2019 requires doctors and medical professionals to undergo continuing education on pain management practices, including the use of opioids and other controlled substances. This law went into effect in September 2019.
- Did Not Pass: Unlike many other states, Texas does not have a Good Samaritan law that allows people to call for emergency help in the case of an overdose without fear of drug-related charges. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has chosen not to sign versions of this law in 2015 and 2019, since he believes it provides too much protection for drug dealers.
- Did Not Pass: A bill that did not pass the legislature in 2019 would have required doctors to discuss the use of controlled substances, such as opioid pain medications, with their patients before they prescribed addictive medications. The bill would also officially define what “substance abuse” and “addiction” mean under Texas law.
In addition to this recent legislation, Texas lawmakers also published an extensive report in 2018 that tried to lay out a path forward for the state on addiction issues. The report noted that more than 2,000 Texans died of drug overdoses in 2016, and four Texas cities were in the top 25 cities for opioid misuse in the country. They estimated that opioid abuse cost the state about $20 billion each year.
The report also noted that addiction impacted nearly every part of the state, from the welfare of children to the prison system. They made hundreds of recommendations for areas for improvement in the state, including:
- More education about the risks of drug addiction on pregnant women
- More funding for addiction treatment for mothers, homeless individuals, veterans, and the mentally ill
- More education for pharmacists, doctors, and other health care providers about the effects of addictive prescription medications
- Additional programs to combat “doctor shopping” for opioid prescriptions
- Equipping more first responders with naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses
- Sending low-level non-violent offenders with drug addiction issues to treatment, not prison
- More treatment focused on an individual’s history of trauma and childhood stress
While Texas still has room for improvement in its handling of addiction and substance use, lawmakers continue to push forward on implementing new programs and resources to help Texans.