GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas — As the opioid crisis continues across the country, there are two new locations in Galveston County providing Narcan, a lifesaving drug, for free.
Lifesaving measures are being expanded as experts in Greater Houston prepare for a new dangerous street drug mixture taking over supply referred to as "zombie drug."
Narcan has been an incredible weapon against overdose deaths. It counteracts the effects opioids have on the brain. EMS, fire stations and emergency rooms are among those that try to keep it in supply, especially since the rise of fentanyl.
It’s been one Galveston man’s mission to make Narcan accessible to all.
This week, Les McColgin and his nonprofit, Gulf Coast Outreach Services, installed their third Narcan dispenser in Galveston County. They are available at One Stop Hardware on Wallace Avenue in Hitchcock, Hart Pharmacy on State Highway 3 in La Marque, and Sullivan’s Pharmacy on Grand Avenue in Bacliff.
Narcan saves lives during an overdose. Over the counter, it costs about $150 a box. The Narcan in McColgin's machines is free.
"What we’re trying to do is illuminate the stigma for using Narcan," McColgin said. "Because the people that need it are typically the family members (of drug users)."
Plagued by opioids for 45 years, McColgin’s now in recovery. Seeing the increase in overdose deaths, largely driven by fentanyl, spurred him to act.
"I got tired of waiting for people to do something," he said. "So, I stepped out in faith and started my own 501(c)(3) five months ago."
Since then, he’s paid for giant billboards educating the public about fentanyl, and overdoses, and also provided resources to help them. He also bought the machines where the Narcan is stored, secured grants and placed the machines in areas that data shows are hotspots for overdoses.
"I’m 71. I went through all those years of my life struggling, and I’m just out to save as many lives as I can," he said.
But now, in a new hurdle in the everchanging fight against drugs, street supplies in major cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore are being cut with xylazine, or "tranq," a tranquilizer created for use in large animals. The mixture is commonly called the "zombie drug" not only because it causes the skin to rot which can lead to amputations, but because of how a person acts while on it.
“Basically, you are like the living dead,” Dr. James Langabeer said.
He works with UTHealth Houston, which also leads UTHealth’s Houston Emergency Opioid Engagement System, or HEROES, a program that provides free counseling, medical treatment, and long-term care for those struggling with addiction.
Langabeer said tranq’s arrival to Greater Houston is inevitable.
"We’ve only heard about it in limited, kind of anecdotal, evidence. People are saying they’re starting to see it and actually request it. But it won’t be long," Langabeer said.
While some people may knowingly use the drug, others will be unaware. Langabeer said drug dealers will cut their supply with the new drug to hook users.
"To make people more likely to use them," Langabeer said. "Xylazine is a drug where it extends the life of fentanyl or an opioid like heroin. Basically, instead of knocking them out right away, it extends the high."
Unfortunately, Narcan is not effective against tranq.
"This is very scary,” Langabeer said. "Because it just makes it harder for people like Houston Fire Department, EMS and emergency departments to do their jobs to try to save you."
Tranq is on McColgin’s radar, too, and he hopes that people learning about the dangers of these drugs prevents them from trying them.
"There is nothing safe," McColgin said. "I was never scared of anything … this scares me."