Millions of Americans battle drug and alcohol addiction, but Collin County residents facing these issues have a resource they might not know about.
The Collin County Substance Abuse Program, first established 32 years ago and served 58 clients in its first year, now serves over 2,500 residents annually.
Program administrator John-Mark Meulman said while they are not a drug and alcohol treatment program, they do offer substance abuse evaluations and referrals for both adults and adolescents as well as public information and education classes for Collin County youth.
All adolescent education resources are free and there is a nominal charge for other evaluations.
“The thing I like is that anything that benefits the county as it relates to substance abuse or mental health falls into my wheelhouse,” Meulman said. “We try to get out and do as much education as we can.”
One issue that has been on his radar recently is an increase in fentanyl abuse. The drug is a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is especially dangerous because a two mg dose is enough to be fatal, compared to 30 mg of heroin.
There has been a recent spike in overdose deaths caused by fentanyl, Meulman said, which wasn’t the case when he first began working with the county in 2016.
“Heroin was the big killer as far as drug toxicity death,” Meulman said, adding that he has been watching fentanyl overdose numbers rise.
The administrator said he only gets drug toxicity death information when the county medical examiner is involved so it isn’t a truly accurate number.
According to Meulman’s records, there were 83 drug toxicity deaths in 2018, 92 in 2019, 112 in 2020 and 103 in 2021.
There are a few other drug trends that has the administrator concerned. Meulman said methamphetamine use and death by overdose are also on the rise, as well as cases of drug users mixing methamphetamine and fentanyl together.
The drug recently made its way into Collin County schools, Meulman said, adding that two high school students were hospitalized after smoking marijuana that had been laced with fentanyl. Both students survived.
“I was looking at national statistics and it is the number one killer now,” he said. “It is such a powerful drug.”
Part of what makes fentanyl so dangerous is that is easy to overdose with, Meulman said, adding that the program is currently waiving fees for anyone seeking help who identifies as having an opioid problem.
“We trying to be proactive,” he said, “and get in front of this thing to any extent that we can.”
Meulman said the education services the program offers are free, adding that he and his staff will “talk to anyone who will listen,” in an effort to bring awareness to the issue.
“The thing we do that is exciting is that we do education in the schools,” Meulman said. “We partnered with Allen ISD a couple of years ago.”
At the time, Allen ISD took a zero-tolerance stance on vaping, said Meulman, and any students who were caught vaping were sent to alternative school, a type of in-school suspension program.
“I worked with the crisis counselor a couple of years ago and one of the things we did was put together a program where students could get a reduction in days [at the alternative school] if they came to us and got an evaluation, drug test and got some education,” he said.
Nationally, marijuana use among high school students has increased as well said Meulman.
“I just attribute that to some of the legalization and permissiveness [of marijuana],” he said. “That and young people just don’t seem to think it is that harmful. But it doesn’t concern me as much as the fentanyl.”
The administrator is passionate about bringing recovery services to the county. Along with his personal journey with addiction and sobriety, several of his family members have also battled, or are currently battling, addiction, including his mother and sister, who both have more than 20 years of sobriety.
Those in need of help from substance abuse issues can contact Meulman or his staff at 972-548-5570.