Texas coalition turns to high school coaches in fight against opioid overdoses

A new coalition of Texas officials, business leaders and community groups aims to prevent opioid overdoses among teens by providing pill-destroying packets to families and fans at high school football games.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the Friday Night Lights Against Opioids Coalition, which formed this week, also is working with the National Child ID program, a community safety initiative that provides families kits to help identify missing children, and the Texas High School Coaches Association, an advocacy group for coaches.

The coalition's large-scale pilot program includes plans to distribute more than 3.5 million drug disposal packets to families at high school football games.

The DisposeRX packets, which also can be purchased at major pharmacies, contain a powder that safely dissolves unused or expired medications, which can then be safely tossed into home trash cans.

“This will be the largest drug prevention, education, abatement and disposal campaign in U.S. history,” Paxton said. “That is certainly our hope. And it is my hope that this program will aid in fighting the opioid epidemic that has claimed far too many young lives across our great state.”

Texas ranks among the top five states for total opioid deaths, recording about 5,000 deaths from drug overdoses in 2021, which is about a 60% increase from 2019, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data.

More:Hays County sheriff's office to develop outreach, education program around opioid crisis

In Travis County, drug toxicity accounted for the highest number of accidental deaths, with 308 reported in 2021, according to a Travis County medical examiner's office report. Of those deaths, 118 were related to fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that, when given in a pharmaceutical context, is used to treat severe pain.

But fentanyl has been sold on the black market because its effects mimic those of heroin, though the synthetic substance is much more powerful. It can be found as a pill, powder, patch, solid or liquid, and it can be lethal even in tiny doses, authorities have said.

Hays County has also reported upticks in accidental drug overdoses. At least 10 fentanyl-related deaths, including four of Hays school district students, have been reported in the county since July, according to the Hays County sheriff’s office.

In August, the Hays school district reported that all of its high school campuses had been affected by the crisis since last May.

Paxton on Wednesday said opioids are a gateway drug to bigger problems, like heroin and human trafficking, and most opioid misuse began with sports injuries or people taking drugs from friends or family members.

Joe Martin, executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, agreed that athletic injuries have certainly contributed to the national crisis, and he said they are now turning to high school coaches to teach kids about the crisis and stop them from taking drugs not prescribed to them.

The association has about 25,000 member coaches in high schools across the state, Martin said.

“Our coaches are very aware of this crisis, and will be quick to step up and make a huge impact in this initiative as we move forward,” Martin said. “Because, as an association, we have the ability to reach every high school in the state of Texas."

More:As opioid overdoses rise, Travis County prepares to declare public health crisis to tackle it

The coalition will follow the model used by the National Child ID program in distributing identification kits to NCAA and NFL coaches. Kenny Hansmire, executive director of the National Child ID Program, said the group distributed its ID kits to coaches and they were then distributed to fans at games.

The same concept will be used to distribute drug disposal packets to high school coaches. High school athletes, community members and local leaders will help distribute the packets at each game.

The group also will create and put out public service announcements and educational materials to be shared during the games.

Pro football Hall of Famers Randy White and Mike Singletary both support the initiative, each recalling how football coaches have made some of the greatest effects in their lives, and they can do the same for their players today.

“Opioids ruin lives from start to finish,” White said, “and anything we can do to help kids, I will do it.”

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas turns to high school coaches in fight against opioid overdoses