SAN ANTONIO – It’s the first of its kind in San Antonio — a walk to remember those lost to fentanyl poisoning and a rally to stop it from happening.
Now, the focus is on the leading recovery experts speaking on Saturday, intending to make big changes with education and breaking the stigma.
“Substance use disorders can happen to anyone. This is a phenomenon that happens in my family. I am well aware of that. I am one of the lucky people because I have not lost a person,” said Dr. Jennifer Potter, the vice president of research for UT Health San Antonio, and executive director of its Be Well Texas program.
Dr. Potter is a renowned expert on substance use disorder, but she also understands it on a personal level.
“Moms and parents shouldn’t be the ones having to raise awareness. Our system needs to do better. Parents who are grieving should be able to grieve,” Potter said.
Be Well Texas offers a long list of resources, regardless of a client’s ability to pay.
As the executive director and vice president of research, Potter is laser-focused on education for the community as well as those with substance use disorder.
“There is a poisoned drug supply right now in Texas. That if they’re using a substance and they don’t know where they got it from, that substance likely contains fentanyl,” she said.
Once people understand the problem, they can talk more openly about it.
“Stigma kills. We know people do not seek or ask for help because they are afraid of the consequences of asking for help, and that can end their life,” Potter said.
It’s also about knowing the options for prevention.
“The importance of fentanyl test strips, and everyone should be carrying naloxone,” Potter said.
Be Well Texas partners with 140 organizations across the state. Locally, a big one of those is the San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Awareness, or SACADA.
“One pill can kill. People need to know that, and they’re taking a gamble with their life,” said SACADA CEO Abby Gilmore.
SACADA provides free and confidential support to people with substance use disorder and their families.
“Help a family walk through the process. Do they need treatment? Do they need medication? Do they need a residential place to be? Whatever the family needs in regards to opioid use, we are there to meet them there and help,” Gilmore said.
SACADA also works closely with kids.
“We go to schools, and we do presentations. We work with kids long term the whole semester, provide education to young people -- elementary, middle and high school. We work with colleges and universities,” Gilmore said.
The goal is to prevent deaths in the next generation.
Gilmore echoed Potter in emphasizing the importance of carrying naloxone, with the brand name Narcan, that can reverse an opioid overdose.
“We encourage families to purchase it or call us for free Narcan. These medications can be bought now over the counter or can be even received from our agency at no charge,” Gilmore said.
Both experts are thrilled that Saturday’s event will include naloxone training.
“At the event, we want to celebrate that we are a community that wants to do prevention. How do we prevent losing lives at all ages, at all stages?” Gilmore said
Potter said it boils down to honesty about gaps in the system and true collaboration.
“That involves schools, that involves Be Well Texas, SACADA, everyone. There are a lot of isolated programs doing good work. But if we don’t talk about the fact that there are gaps in the system, we are going to continue to lose lives. Get everybody in the same room and focus on solving the problems collectively and collaboratively,” she said.
Potter and Gilmore said Saturday’s event is a good place to start.
The Soles Walking for Souls Fentanyl Awareness Walk is Saturday, October 14, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Greenline on Brooks City Base.
There will be federal, state, and local government officials, food vendors, naloxone training, a mile walk, and a candlelight vigil.
KSAT’s Courtney Friedman will be emceeing the event.
If you or someone you love is suffering with substance use disorder, there are cost friendly and even free options:
The number for Be Well Texas is (888) 85-BEWELL or (888) 852-3955.
To get resources from SACADA, call (210) 225-4741.