PAIN PILL PROBLEMS: Opioid abuse in East Texas fueled by Fentanyl

East Texas Addicted

“I was 1988 NFL man of the year, married my college cheerleader dream wife, had two great kids, and I was also a drug addict. This is the face of addiction,” said Randy Grimes, former Robert E. Lee Red Raider and Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

SAN FRANCISCO – NOVEMBER 18: Center Randy Grimes, #60 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, looks on from the sidelines during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on November 18, 1990, in San Francisco, California. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Today he is a recovering opioid user, saying he nursed his sports injuries with pills so he could stay in the game.

“Not once, in the entire decade that I was in Tampa, did anybody say, Randy, why are you slurring your words,” said Grimes. “Randy, why are you nodding off in meetings every day? Randy, why are you late to practice every day? Randy, why are you the last one out of the building every night and pills are missing? Nobody ever said that, because I was always playing great.”

In 2009, Grimes hit rock bottom. That’s when he entered a treatment program that he says saved his life.

Now he’s been sober for nearly a decade.

“I’m coming up on double digits, it’ll be 10 years next week. Who would have ever thought, you know? Because 10 years ago, I was ready for my next handful of pills to be my last after a 20-plus year addiction,” said Grimes.

Now, he travels the world sharing his story in hopes of bringing healing to those struggling with addiction.

“It’s my philosophy that when communities get well, families get well. When families get well, addicts get well. So it’s all about educating and reducing the stigma that keeps people from asking for help,” said Grimes.

Opioid use is a nationwide problem with life-changing consequences, and the State of Texas is not immune.

“In Texas in particular, about opioids, we have in the past year to two years been averaging about 100 deaths per month from opioid abuse,” said Linda Oyer with East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

(KXAN Photo/Kate Winkle)

And that’s exactly why Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been leading the charge against opioids.

“My office is holding Purdue Pharma accountable for fueling the nations opioid epidemic,” said Paxton.

He accuses Purdue of deceptive marketing when it comes to prescription painkillers and alleges the company deceived doctors by telling them patients who exhibit signs of addiction actually need a higher opioid dosage.

“Purdue saw fit to exchange destroyed lives for financial gain,” said Paxton.

Alongside him in the fight are several East Texas counties filing lawsuits against Purdue and other big pharma companies.

Purdue, just days ago, came to a tentative settlement with half of the states and as many as 2,000 local governments.

If the deal is approved, it will cost them about $12 billion over time, which is a huge win in the war on drugs.

But it’s a war that will likely never end.

Right here in East Texas, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith says they recently experienced their first opioid overdose call. Two people were found unconscious, and only one survived after a dose of Narcan.

“I’ve been in law enforcement now 45 years and part of that was working with the Drug Enforcement Administration. I’ve worked a lot of drug offenses. I can tell you just a little bit over a year ago, you could not have convinced me how in any shape, manner or form that the use of illicit drugs was anything but a choice,” said Sheriff Smith.

He had a change of heart after meeting Grimes and being introduced to others while touring a Florida treatment center about a year ago.

“I am 100% convinced that it is not a choice, that some people are more prone to abuse and they can take it one or two times and they’re hooked,” said Sheriff Smith. “And they will do anything, just about anything, forsaking their family and everything else to be able to get the next fix.”

Now he’s working to find ways to keep users out of jail and in treatment programs.

“We can’t arrest enough people and let them in and out of jail to fix the problem. We have to fix the problem where the problem starts,” said Sheriff Smith.

And according to the DEA, it starts with us being smart about what we are taking and understanding the risk of certain drugs.

“You know, if I get a prescription for 50 pills, I probably only need about 10 of those,” said Jeff Kennemer with the DEA.

Anesthesiologist Dr. Nick Lee says once patients have exhausted their need for their prescriptions, another issue arises.

“They will over-prescribe, it’s not utilized and the problem is that what’s happening to that medication is that it’s not going to that person, but it’s going to friends and family,” said Dr. Lee.

Leaving many more at risk for an addiction that takes as many as 177 lives in the United States each day.

If you have leftover prescriptions, look for take-back programs and see if your city offers drop boxes where you can get rid of excess pills. It could save the life of someone you love.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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