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‘Laced’ opioids leading to more overdoses, deaths in El Paso

Contaminated oxycodone pills seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

EL PASO, Texas -- The medical community is concerned about a rise in opioid overdoses in the Borderland.

One local doctor told ABC-7 she believes laced drugs purchased illegally are to blame.

"We're concerned that people are buying what they think is oxycodone off the street and it turns out to be fentanyl. Without intending to, they overdose on it," said Dr. Sarah Watkins.

Watkins is an emergency medicine physician at University Medical Center of El Paso. She also serves as the medical director of the West Texas Regional Poison Center.

She said more calls are coming into the poison center concerning life-threatening overdoses. Watkins said the callers say they only took one pill of what they thought was oxycodone.

Watkins said the uptick has occurred over the last month. She said she knows at least a couple of people at UMC have died of overdoses.

"My biggest concern is that with Covid-19 causing so much increased anxiety in people's lives, they will turn to medication or illicit substances as a way to cope with that stress. And unintentionally, they might be ending their lives because of that," she added.

Drug use climbs during the pandemic

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, more than 20 million people in the U.S. have a substance abuse disorder.

The recession caused by the pandemic may lead to 75,000 deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, and suicide, according to the AAMC.

The AAMC also found drug overdoses since the start of the pandemic have climbed 18 percent. With more people being hospitalized for Covid, there is more demand for legal and illegal opioids.

"Anytime someone overdoses on an opioid or a medication, we want to get them connected with social resources whether that's meeting with a social worker, a psychiatrist or a therapist," Watkins said. "We want to get them connected with those resources that will help them in the long term."

If you or someone you know has substance abuse issues, there is help.

Aliviane is the primary provider of mental health and substance use services in west Texas. Call Aliviane at (915) 782-4000.

Article Topic Follows: Health

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Stephanie Valle

Stephanie Valle co-anchors ABC-7 at 5, 6 and 10 weeknights.


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