North Texas

Addiction Experts, Sheriff Confront Opioid Epidemic in Tarrant County

After years of decline, deadly drug overdoses are once again on the rise, including right here in North Texas.

In Tarrant County, 147 people have already died of an overdose this year, according to the medical examiner, which is ahead of pace for this time last year.

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn has made fighting the rise in overdoses a top priority for his department, while treatment centers have their hands full with more and more people coming for help directly from the hospital.

At the Recovery Resource Council in Fort Worth, help is always a phone call away, and lately the phones have been ringing more than ever.

"In the month of December, when we normally have very minimal people. It doubled and tripled in the amount of people coming through," said Paula Shockey, outreach coordinator for the Recovery Resource Council.

Shockey added that those numbers have kept climbing throughout the summer, in large part for opioid addictions from pills to heroine. Adding to the problem, there are only 62 beds in North Texas for folks in need of detox.

"That just doesn't handle the number of people that are coming in," Shockey said. "So people are having to wait to get into detox, and that can be very life-threatening."

Shockey knows it firsthand. She lost her niece to an opioid overdose, the result of a prescription pain pill addiction.

"It's still difficult at holidays," Shockey said. "We've been down that road."

So has James Tapscott.

"The story I share is long-term recovery is possible," Tapscott said.

He's a recovering heroin addict who is nine-years sober and now works as an information and referral specialist for the Recovery Resource Council.

He and Shockey both say the state needs to offer more money and resources for treatment.

"Once you go down that road, you're in an addiction that's very hard to control," Tapscott said.

Meanwhile, Waybourn is focused on the criminal approach. He's ordered his deputies to arrest both drug dealers and users, getting them off the streets before deciding to send them to jail or treatment.

"We don't want them out becoming a danger to families, or themselves," Waybourn said, adding that he believes in that approach because drug addiction is often associated with other crimes.

The sheriff has ordered extra training for his deputies to recognize the signs of addiction and overdoses and know how to react. He says if an addict wants help, he or she can always go through drug court, but he wants them off the streets first.

The overdose trend is especially concerning for teenagers. New research from the CDC shows the overdose death rate for kids ages 15 to 19 rose in 2015, after going down for years. Most cases involved opioids, especially heroin.

There are no detox beds specifically for minors in North Texas, and addiction experts say that has to change.

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