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Local doctor: Opioid crisis isn't getting better in Coastal Bend

Posted at 5:03 PM, Jan 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 20:04:03-05

The opioid epidemic remains in the Coastal Bend, with Nueces county having the highest rate of overdose deaths in the state of Texas.

All of those deaths are preventable and many are, in fact, accidental.

But the opioid overdose death continues to rise in the United States, and right here in the Coastal Bend.

"I overdosed for the first time when i was 27 in my apartment and luckily there were people there to save my life," said Aaron Gonzales, who is now a recovery coach at The Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

But not every story ends that way. A study released by the Department of State Health Services in 2016 said Nueces county reported 17.1 deaths per 100,000 people.

Pediatric anesthesiologist Dr. Mary Dale Peterson said based on what doctors see in local hospitals -- things haven't changed.

"With the ER admissions we see, I don't think we are seeing a significant decrease in potential overdoses or actual overdoses," said Peterson, who also is the executive vice-president and chief operating officer for the Driscoll Health System.

For Dr. Peterson, ending the opioid epidemic is both personal and professional. It's an issue which has touched her family.

And as an anesthesiologist, part of her role is to recognize opioid abuse or addiction signs in her patients as they manage post-surgical pain, or if they are dealing with chronic conditions. That's why the president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists has rallied 54,000 physicians nationwide to try to prevent the crisis from getting worse.

"We're looking at reducing the amount of opioids that are being prescribed, and trying to educate people that a lot of the over-counter jobs work better than opioids," she said.

So why do people choose to use opioids over other drugs?

"I think because of the potency of it, how effective and quick the high can be," Gonzales said. "Because it's very readily available and often cheap, and has a lot of versatile uses -- whether it be smoking, snorting, injecting or whatever."

A release from Peterson's American Society of Anesthesiologists said doctors write more than 190 million prescriptions for opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also report that every day, 130 people die from opioid overdoses

Naloxone kits, commonly known as Narcan kits, are available without a prescription at the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation and Walgreen's stores and can reverse the immediate effects of an overdose. Dr. Peterson said it's important to recognize signs of overdose such as slow or irregular breathing, blue or gray skin color, vomiting and seizures.

"If you can identify an overdose or alcohol poisoning, you are more likely to react quickly making the difference between life and death for a family member, friend or stranger."