The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy and UT Health San Antonio hosted their annual Texas Substance Use Symposium, April 29-30. This year, the event’s main topic was the opioid crisis.
“The Texas Substance Use Symposium was inspired by some work that we were doing in Bear County related to opioids,” event co-chair Dr. Jennifer Porter said. “As a person who does research and work related to substance use, it became clear to me there was not easy access to high quality evidence based continuing education
“We wanted to provide access to a variety of professionals with a common interest in substance use. The other unique piece we wanted was that community members and people affected by substance abuse are also invited.”
Dr. Daniel Ciccarone talked about changes in the drug crisis caused by the supply of illegal drugs over the past decade.
“Methamphetamine is back. It’s back big time,” Ciccarone said. “The supply has changed since about 2015 particularly in West Virginia where the locally made ‘Shake and Bake’ was very common prior to 2015. People made a big point in telling us it’s all different now; it’s a different drug. It’s more of an import quality. They can tell the difference in quality. They know it’s less expensive. That’s why the market shifted, because price means a lot to these folks. The new stuff is more potent.”
However, according to Ciccarone, many drug users will use whatever drugs are available. Many users are turning from heroine to substances like meth or ice, because they are cheaper.
“Supply is up, purity is up, price is down,” Ciccarone said. “Contamination is happening, but unfortunately we can’t get a solid data point. We don’t know whether if the level of contamination is meaningful or not, because we don’t have purities. We don’t know if it is toxic levels or not. This cross contamination has been happening for a while. It’s getting worse overtime.”
Dr. Bonzo Reddick spoke about issues surrounding HIV and HCV and AIDs. These diseases are a problem among drug users and sharing needles is a common source of disease.
“We use age based screening,” Reddick said. “Do not think you can figure out who’s at risk and who’s not, because you can’t. By treating people and diagnosing people early with HIV and treating, we see decreased death rates, we see decrease age related complications, we see decrease in community viral loads. Again huge benefits to the individual and to the community by testing them early, diagnosing them early, and getting them started on medication early. Interdisciplinary collaboration is critical.”
David Miramontes, medical director for the San Antonio fire department, explained that meth is a major problem in San Antonio.
“Meth is a game changer for us here,” Miramontes said. “There’s no inpatient magic bullet treatment for meth addiction. In Bear County, the number one cause of death for drug overdose isn’t heroine, it’s meth, or meth with heroine, or meth with benzos.”
Dr. Potter offered advice to anyone who is not a professional, but wants to help a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse.
“Perhaps the most important thing is that if they suspect someone in their own life is struggling with substance use they should ask them,” Potter said. “A lot times because we’re polite we don’t ask, even though we’re worried and that might be the very thing that changes someone’s life. If you’re worried about [someone] having a substance abuse problems, ask.
“Just the fact that asking is a compassionate act will sometimes encourage that individual to go, ‘You know I could really use some help,’ and if they do ask for help, be there for them. You don’t have to fix them, but just be there for them don’t turn your back on them.”
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