Texas and its largest county face persistent drug treatment shortages, says Baker Institute expert


Jeff Falk

Texas and its largest county face persistent drug treatment shortages, says Baker Institute expert

HOUSTON — (June 20, 2019) — A wealth of evidence shows that medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence can work, but most Americans can’t get access to it, according to a drug policy expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The Houston skyline at night

The Houston skyline at night. Credit: 123RF.com/Rice University

In Texas, legislators did little to address this issue in the session that ended May 27, said Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell, III, Fellow in Drug Policy at the institute. She is available to discuss the legislative session’s developments on this and related issues with the news media.

“Opioid addiction, and substance misuse generally, are public health problems that don’t just affect individuals and families but entire communities and systems of care,” Neill Harris wrote in a new post for the redesigned Baker Institute blog that was unveiled this month, http://blog.bakerinstitute.org. “The continued inability and unwillingness to address this problem adequately mean that the public health crisis of substance use will continue, and will continue to impact all Texans.”

Rural areas grappling with a lack of basic health care services often desperately need more medication-assisted treatment services, Neill Harris said. “But large cities that boast a wealth of medical resources also lack medication-assisted treatment,” she wrote. “Harris County, home to Houston and one of the largest medical centers in the world, has relatively few treatment providers that offer one of the three Federal Drug Administration-approved medication-assisted treatments for opioid use disorder.”

Pew study found that Harris County ranked last out of 10 major cities in methadone availability, with only 0.3 facilities per 100,000 people, and last in the rate of certified buprenorphine clinicians, with just 5.3 per 100,000 people, Neill Harris said. By comparison, Baltimore, which ranked first in both categories, had 4.7 methadone facilities per 100,000 people and 52.4 buprenorphine clinicians per 100,000 people, she said.

“Consistent with these findings, according to a national survey of drug treatment providers, only 24 facilities in Harris County offer buprenorphine or methadone,” Neill Harris wrote. “Just four facilities offer both of these drugs.”

Detoxification services, which provide medical assistance to people withdrawing from opioids, are also lacking, Neill Harris said. “Detox is necessary for patients who want to reduce their drug use, use a non-narcotic medication-assisted treatment such as naltrexone, or attempt abstinence,” she wrote. The withdrawal process can be incredibly difficult and painful, she pointed out, and without medical assistance during detox patients are less likely to reduce or stop using opioids. Just 20 providers in Harris County offer some form of detox assistance, Harris wrote.

These limited services are often inaccessible for uninsured and indigent populations, Neill Harris said. “An extensive review found just eight providers in Harris County that offer at least one of the three medication-assisted treatments and either accept Medicaid or receive government funding for providing services to indigent clients,” she wrote. “Only eight detox facilities accept Medicaid. For individuals who depend on state funding for treatment, there are very few detox beds available — approximately 32 in the entire county. While these data only cover Harris County, it is likely that the rest of the state faces similar shortages in accessible care.”


The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media who want to schedule an interview with Neill Harris. For more information, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at jfalk@rice.edu or 713-348-6775.

Related materials:

Neill Harris bio: http://bakerinstitute.org/experts/katharine-neill

Follow the Baker Institute via Twitter @BakerInstitute.

Follow the Drug Policy Program via Twitter @BakerDrugPolicy.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top three university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at www.bakerinstitute.org or on the institute’s blog, http://blog.bakerinstitute.org.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.