WACO, TX — Recently released data from the CDC shows a roughly 32% increase in the number of overdose deaths in Texas from 2019 to 2020.
This is higher than the 29% increase reported for the United States as a whole.
The provisional data shows that in 2020, 4,192 Texans are estimated to have lost their lives from a drug overdose. The majority of those deaths are tied to opioid or synthetic opioid use.
Richard Bradshaw is the executive director of Central Texas Harm Reduction, an organization that goes directly to local drug users to provide them with resources to prevent overdoses, such as opioid blocker Narcan, also known as naloxone.
He said people need to change the stereotypes they sometimes have about drug users.
"Oh, someone does drugs because they're a bad person. When really, there's a number of psychological, social and biological factors that put someone at increased risk for substance use disorder," Bradshaw said.
Not all overdoses start with drug addiction. A major contributor to overdose deaths is drugs containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl. It can be enough to kill someone on their first use.
"If the alcohol supply in America was contaminated with fentanyl, by the end of the afternoon tomorrow, the US government would've invested so much money into a PSA campaign to warn people," Bradshaw said, discussing the difference in the way alcohol and drug use are currently approached.
Kristen Alderman, who spent years in recovery from drug addiction in Waco and now works for a prison ministry in Houston, says education is one of the keys to preventing overdose.
"Just having people out there trying to get people help," she said. "There's so many people out there that don't know there's help."
She said working with those in recovery has helped her in her own recovery.
"It honestly has kept me sober seeing other people overcome obstacles, and just seeing the pain people go through in recovery," Alderman said, "It just really fuels you to do more."
Bradshaw, who has also suffered from substance abuse in the past, said his organization hopes to give people the tools and education he could have used when he was younger.
"I needed help from a shame-free, non-judgmental standpoint," he said. "Where someone could sit down with me and value me as a human. And not as a drug addict that deserved to die."