Law Enforcement Agencies Team Up for Drug Prevention Awareness

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WESLACO – The opioid epidemic plaguing parts of the U.S. is not an epidemic in the Rio Grande Valley.

Many health and law enforcement agencies are working to keep it that way. They are concerned with a different problem which, if mixed with opioids, could prove deadly.

Over the summer, law enforcement and prevention teams in the Valley came together to form a coalition known as Prevention Awareness Team of Hidalgo County, or PATH. They believe this team could help ward off a crisis.

Thursday marked the start of a two-day conference among the group.

It may be easy to be desensitized to numbers about the current nationwide opioid crisis.

Alton Police Chief Jonathan B. Flores reiterates some stats he heard at the conference, "115 people are dying each day in the United States due to opioid use." 

For a police officer who sees a deadly overdose or a nurse who treats someone in the middle of a chaotic withdrawal, these numbers become, simply, people in pain.

A different set of statistics reflect an established problem in the Valley.

Weslaco Police Chief Joel Rivera said, "Two in every ten seventh - 12th graders have reported misusing prescription drugs. Those are not nationwide numbers, those are Hidalgo County numbers."  

Rivera cites research used by Behavioral Health Solutions of South Texas. They know prescription drug abuse is common for several reasons like accessibility.

Vianca Vieyra, a prevention specialist, said, "One, you can go across. But two, it's accessible because in the flea markets."

Border communities with high uninsured populations can turn to the border or relatives to buy prescription drugs of unknown potency.

Vieyra said, "They're needing and looking for that solution for their health needs. And, unfortunately, with that comes the issues of misusing, sharing, maybe buying off of somebody."  

Adding opioid abuse to the existing system of prescription drug abuse in the Valley could become a fatal mix.

As it is, any kind of addiction is manifested in the calls police get.

Flores listed, "organized activity, burglaries, robberies, and things of that nature – prostitution. These are all things that can stem from this type of narcotic activity."

Stopping it before it happens will require education and a collaborative effort by everyone who handles any angle of this problem.

"We wanted to start having those conversations together instead of working against each other, kind of bridging that gap between community and law enforcement," said Vieyra.

The relationships forged here are expected to extend past this day.

Police were warned they "can't arrest their way out of this problem." They plan to share information with social service centers so they can help create awareness to prevent a crisis. 

Eleven drop boxes were placed around Hidalgo County. People can drop off their unused prescription drugs in the following locations to get them out of the house:

McAllen ISD Police Department
2112 N Main St., McAllen, TX 78501

Edinburg CISD Police Department
1313 East Schunior Street, Edinburg, TX 78539

Pharr Police Department
1900 S Cage Blvd., Pharr, TX 78577

San Juan Police Department
2301 N Raul Longoria, San Juan, TX 78589

Palmview Police Department
400 W Veterans Blvd., Palmview, TX 78572

Hidalgo County Constable Precinct #4
2814 S Business Highway 281, Edinburg, TX

Edinburg Police Department
1702 South Closner Blvd., Edinburg, TX 78539

Mission Police Department
1200 East 8th St., Mission, TX 78572

Weslaco Police Department
901 N Airport Dr., Weslaco, TX 78596

Donna Police Department
207 S. 10th Street, Donna, TX 78537

Peñitas Library
1111 South Main Street, Penitas, TX 78576

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