TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A conference focusing on the growing opioid crisis is set for next week in Tyler.
The Opioid Overdose Crisis: The Role of Clinicians and the Community will feature Tyler native and former NFL player Randy Grimes as keynote speaker.
Grimes played football at Tyler Lee and Baylor University before spending nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith announced Grimes’ visit during a press conference Thursday, adding that Grimes became addicted to opioids while trying to manage pain from injuries he received on the field.
“Randy has told me before that it required him to work injured, and in doing so, he got hooked on opioids,” Smith said.
Grimes is now an addiction and recovery advocate after fighting his own battle against opioid addiction.
Next week’s conference is designed to present law enforcement, health professionals and the public with information that can be used to help people struggling with addiction.
“To find out what this opioid abuse is all about and how you can help your family members. Your friends. Your neighbors who are battling this addiction,” Smith said. “And I’m here to tell you addiction is not a choice. Addiction is an illness.”
The free conference will be from 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019 at Green Acres Baptist Church Crosswalk Conference Center, 1607 Troup Highway in Tyler. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.
Smith said the county organized the East Texas Opioid and Substance Abuse Control Committee several months ago in conjunction with UT Health Northeast, CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Hospital, East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the East Texas Substance Abuse Coalition, the UT Tyler Fisch College of Pharmacy and the Tyler Police Department.
“This committee was formed because of the opioid abuse that has started up in the north part of our nation and is finally become to fruition here in East Texas and it’s taken the lives of many of our citizens,” Smith said. “We’ve recently here in Smith County had our first bout with going to a call and finding somebody that was overdosing on opioids. There were two individuals there. One was already deceased, and the second one was brought back with the use of Narcan. So we’re trying to get ahead of the curve here.”
In Texas, more than 100 people died from an opioid overdose every month in 2018, according to Linda Oyer, the CEO of the East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
“The No. 1 exposure is through prescription opioids so it seemed very fitting for our committee to focus on our medical community, bringing them together and doing some education to enlighten them about how serious this epidemic has gotten in East Texas,” Oyer said.
Nationwide, drug overdoses continue to increase, so much so, it’s a leading cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From 1999-2017, nearly 400,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids, according to the CDC. Data also shows that about 68 percent of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid; In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was six times higher than in 1999 and on average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC.
Smith said new drug treatment facilities could be coming to East Texas. He said the area could see grants through a bill sponsored by Senators Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and John Cornyn, R-Texas.
“Hopefully we’ll finally get some funds here to get the detox centers that we need here in East Texas and the treatment centers to keep off of this type of drug because it is a lifelong fight for them that they live with every day," Smith said. “You could’ve told me before that opioid abuse was anything other than a choice, I would’ve said ‘you don’t know what your talking about,' but I am convinced without a doubt opioid abuse is not a choice. It’s an illness.”