WACO, Texas — Recently released estimates from the CDC show that the United States surpassed 100,000 overdose deaths in a year for the first time ever.
Recovery and harm reduction organizations in Central Texas aren't surprised by that figure, especially after the isolation and job loss that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's really hard for people to cope when a situation like nobody ever expected came along and put everybody in their homes alone, or out of work," said Laura Weaver, program manager of the Heart of Texas Region MHMR substance abuse division.
In Texas, provisional CDC data shows a 36.4 percent increase in overdose deaths from April 2020 to April 2021. The country as a whole saw a 28.1 percent increase in that same timeframe.
Richard Bradshaw, executive director of Central Texas Harm Reduction, said in order to lower the number of annual overdoses, major change in the way we deal with substance abuse needs to happen.
"Our treatment systems in the United States has done nothing meaningful to adjust the way it provides treatment to the elevated risk of fentanyl being present in our drug supply," he said.
Roughly 70 percent of overdose deaths are linked to opioids. This comes as fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, makes its way into more and more of the drug supply.
"They may cut a drug, like methamphetamines, with it. And people don't realize until they've used it that they are overdosing on it," Weaver said.
Luckily, there are tools available to prevent overdose deaths.
One of those tools is Narcan, or nalaxone, which can reverse overdoses if used in a timely manner. It can be purchased at pharmacies or obtained from groups like Central Texas Harm Reduction.
Another tool is fentanyl test strips, which allow drug users to check to see if their supply is contaminated with the deadly drug and allow them to either dispose of it or proceed with more caution.
Heart of Texas Region MHMR offers services for adults struggling with substance abuse and can help connect people to necessary resources.
Central Texas Harm Reduction offers tools like Narcan and fentanyl test strips at no cost. Contact information for the organization can be found on its Facebook page.