AUSTIN (KXAN) — Surrounded by his pictures, Sheila Osgood reads and re-reads poems and letters from her son. The first one she picks up is titled, “For my hero, my mother.”
“I love and miss you — wish I could kiss you, mom,” Osgood reads.
It’s her connection to 27-year-old Tyler, who died last year.
“It was hell. It was the worst day of my life,” Osgood said.
A spokesperson for San Marcos Police told KXAN Tyler’s autopsy showed a lethal amount of fentanyl in his system, along with other drugs, and his death was ruled an accidental mixed drug intoxication.
She said she was in contact with her son all morning, joking about doing laundry at his place.
“He was in a good mood… and then all of a sudden, silence,” she said.
Osgood said she knows her son used other drugs but is convinced he didn’t know he took fentanyl.
“You know they’re gonna make mistakes, and you know they’re gonna learn from their mistakes, but you never think that they’re gonna learn six feet under,” she said.
The growing fentanyl problem was the focus of a hearing Tuesday for the Texas House Committee on Public Health.
Members heard about possible solutions from different groups, including the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA) Dr. C.M. Schade.
“We’ve got to change course,” he told KXAN after his testimony. “What we did last decade doesn’t work this decade, and hopefully they got that message.”
One solution he and TMA are proposing is asking state lawmakers to make prescribing opioids easier in order to combat the fentanyl crisis.
Several years ago, he said, lawmakers tightened guidelines when it came to doctors prescribing opioids.
“There was over-prescribing of opioids, which was contributing to opioid deaths,” Schade said. “But for the last decade, prescription opioids have gone drastically down. But yet, opioid deaths continue to go up, year after year.”
The TMA points to data that indicates opioid prescribing has decreased by 45% in the state over the past decade, as deaths from illegal drugs have increased in Texas.
“So now, there’s no correlation. In fact, a negative correlation between the two; the less we prescribe, the more deaths there are,” Schade said.
He said some people are turning to fake pills to manage pain.
During Tuesday’s house committee meeting, a spokesperson for Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, said that was the case for one of their clients.
“She was a runner. She got injured. She went to the doctor, and she eventually started to use drugs,” said Paulette Soltani, director of organizing for the alliance.
“There are three main sources to the opioid overdose crisis,” said Schade, who is also former president of the Texas Pain Society (TPS). “Recreational use of street drugs, unintended misuse of drugs by patients who are suffering severe or chronic pain and drug addiction.”
According to the American Medical Association, illegally manufactured fentanyl is found in 75% of fake pills and other substances, and many people are caught off guard, because those pills look like prescription opioids. The group reminds people “even two milligrams of fentanyl – tiny enough to fit on the tip of a pen – can be lethal.”
The TMA and other groups who testified also want lawmakers to enact other solutions, including:
- Provide more information to the public on overdoses caused by counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, including at schools and universities.
- Expand access to naloxone, a medicine that reverses opioid overdoses.
- Legalize fentanyl test strips, which TMA said can detect the presence of fentanyl in illicit drugs. Under the Texas Controlled Substances Act, TMA said, fentanyl strips are classified as drug paraphernalia, making them illegal. “Physicians say these strips can serve as an important line of defense against this deadly drug because ideally a positive test on a pill would dissuade people from taking it,” TMA added.
“People are going to make bad choices, but they shouldn’t be fatal,” Schade said.
Osgood isn’t on board with fentanyl testing strips, but does agree with the TMA’s other suggestions. She agrees there needs to be more awareness about the deadly impact of fentanyl.
“We want billboards up. We want kids pictures up,” she said.
That’s now part of her new path, along with finding the person who supplied her son with fentanyl and bringing justice to them.
“To me, it’s murder. Straight up. That’s what it is,” she said.
She wants police to help track the source down, and said maybe if they had, they could’ve stopped recent overdoses of students at Hays CISD.
“Maybe those four kids wouldn’t have died if they would have listened,” she said.
She’s finding light along the way in the same letters that once made her sob.
“Now they give me inspiration. They make me happy,” she said.
KXAN asked San Marcos police if they are looking into where Tyler’s fentanyl came from.
A spokesperson said “further investigation will not take place unless additional information is obtained. In general, additional information could mean video evidence, witnesses, etc.”