The recent arrest of Dr. Howard Diamond on federal charges concerning the way he ran DiamondBack Pain and Wellness Centers in Paris and Sherman, has focused local attention on a situation that has been grabbing national headlines for a few years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids — including prescription opioids and heroin — quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015, the CDC says, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses.
A recent New York Times article said more than 2 million Americans are estimated to be dependent on opioids. But those numbers don’t seem to represent what local officials say is happening here in Grayson County. While stories like that of recovering opioid addict Bryan Nicholson are not rare in Grayson County, they are not the norm here either.
Local law enforcement is not faced daily, weekly or even monthly with the calls to opioid overdoses the way fire responders are in cities and counties in the northern and eastern parts of the country where this epidemic has reached such a proportion that the medical examiners have had to rent refrigerated trailers to keep the overflow of bodies because their staffs can only perform so many autopsies in a day.
But if something isn’t done and done soon, that problem could end up here.
Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt said generally drug trends start on the coasts and work their way into the middle of the country.
“I don’t think we’re there yet. But one of the things that I really worry about is, I recall seeing in the national news a narcotics officer just touched some Fetanayl and ended up in the hospital,” Watt said.
He said he remembers when other drug trends hit this area.
“In the mid ’80s when crack cocaine hit Sherman, I believe we had 10, 12 (or) 13 murders in one year, and it was all connected to the crack cocaine coming into Sherman, Texas,” the former Sherman police chief said.
Back then, he said, officers had to learn a whole different way of dealing with people who were on that drug. If the opioid crisis isn’t stopped before it gets here they will have to learn how to deal with that problem as well. In some areas of the country first responders are being armed with doses of Narcan, a drug that reverses respiratory depression that can lead to death in those who have used too much of an opioid or mixed it with other drugs.
In areas where the opioid epidemic has seen jails swell with opioid addicts, some counties have introduced methadone, a drug used to treat opioid dependence, in the jails. Watt said Grayson County doesn’t have such a program but he is proud of the way that the individual parts of Grayson County’s criminal justice system work together to help get people the help they need.
“They know the Grayson County Jail is not the place for somebody whose in crisis. They need to be someplace else,” Watt said.
One member of that Criminal Justice Team is Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown. Brown said his office works a lot of drug-related cases, but most of them are still related to methamphetamine and crack cocaine.
“We have definitely seen an increase in the number of cases involving opioid pain medication abuse, but it does not seem to be to the level described in some of the bigger jurisdictions,” Brown said.
He said while the area has not been hit with an epidemic increase in the use of opioids, that doesn’t mean there is not a discernible problem.
“I have especially noticed a larger percentage of DWI cases have involved pills instead of alcohol as the intoxicating substance. People are driving drugged at an alarming rate,” he said.
The Grayson County District Attorneys Office does not keep statistics on drug-related charges broken down by substance.