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Cornyn at ET roundtable: Opioid demand biggest challenge in America; local efforts touted

TYLER — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said the biggest challenge in America is the demand for opioids. He stressed the urgent need to halt the demand and provide support for officials and specialty courts that provide supervision to help people break the habit.

“As long as people keep buying these drugs, the cartels will continue to get rich,” Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday. “They don’t care about people. It’s part of a larger problem, but anything we can do with the demand side will strike a blow.”

Cornyn was in Tyler for a roundtable discussion at the University of Texas at Tyler’s Fisch College of Pharmacy, where he heard from local leaders about the work being done in East Texas to combat the opioid addiction, misuse and overdose problems plaguing the area and the country.

Cornyn said the opioid epidemic is a global phenomenon.

“We have to look at all sources, whether it’s across the border, through the mail through FedEx or DHL or some other source,” Cornyn said.

Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman moderated the discussion with law enforcement officials, medical professionals and drug treatment experts.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said he’s convinced opioid abuse is not a choice, but an illness.

Smith said he would like to see a program such as Hope Not Handcuffs, something he said he became familiar with through a woman in Detroit.

Smith said the program allows people to self-identify as having a drug problem at a police station or a sheriff’s office.

“Volunteers will get them into a treatment program,” Smith said. “We need to have another outlet to get to those people before they get to the DA, the police department or law enforcement, which will help with the demand for opioids.”

Dr. Emmanuel “Manny” Elueze, vice president of medical education and professional development at UT Health Northeast, said a local committee called East Texas Opioid and Substance Abuse Coalition has come up with ways to combat the issues in the area.

Elueze said the committee wants to increase awareness and education to combat the misinformation about the drugs and to reduce misuse and overdose by educating physicians and pharmacists about how the drugs are prescribed.

“We want resources to help us treat in a physician’s office,” Elueze said.

Linda Oyer, chief executive officer of East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said funding is needed to expand recovery services, medication and therapy for those who have gone through treatment.

She also told Cornyn about the challenges the area faces with the lack of state-funded bed space in residential treatment programs. She said there are 10.

Dr. Lane Brunner, dean of Fisch College of Pharmacy, told Cornyn about the college’s role in training new pharmacists and how pharmacists are on the front lines of opioid issues.

“They are the experts in medication in the community,” Brunner said. “They are in every community, every hospital and on every corner. That means we have the initial touch with people who have difficulty with opioids.”

Brunner said the college spends a lot of time teaching students about opioid addiction including pharmacology, the therapeutic use of opioids and what to do when therapy stops so patients don’t go through withdrawals.

”When a prescription comes to the pharmacy, it’s not about dispensing it,” Brunner said. “It’s about looking at the total patient to determine if it’s the right drug and the right dose for that patient for the right period of time.”

Brunner said it’s a challenge to get people to spend more time talking with a pharmacist.

"It’s one of the ways we find out if a patient has fears about taking a particular medication," Brunner said.

Ngoc Nguyen, Fisch 2019 valedictorian, told Cornyn she is making it her mission to ensure that every patient understands their disease and understands what medications they are taking, especially when it comes to opioids.

Cornyn said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 70,000 people died from overdoses in 2017, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are more deadly.

He stressed the need for law enforcement to intervene if physicians are overprescribing prescriptions.

Cornyn said the Support for Patients and Communities Act, signed into law in October 2018, is working to enhance the ability to scan boxes going through the U.S. Postal Service.

The law, which includes language authored by Cornyn, reauthorized critical programs to reduce demand for narcotics, provides tools to pharmacists, prescribers and law enforcement so they can better combat opioid addiction and supports those recovering from substance use.

Cornyn also stressed the need for physicians to prescribe nonsteroidal medications for pain.

"You don’t need a 10-pound hammer when a fly swatter will do the job," Cornyn said. "I think this has to do with educating physicians, and I think this is where pharmacists play an important role. It’s harder and harder to get focus on getting patients to interface with pharmacists."

Cornyn said patients should be willing to talk to pharmacists and ask questions about their prescriptions.

He said drug courts also have an important role to play. Through them, judges and probation officers have to monitor an individual’s compliance with a recovery regimen.

Cornyn also toured the Fisch College of Pharmacy while he was on the campus.

Others who attended the roundtable were 321st District Court Judge Robert Wilson, Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler, Fisch Clinical Assistant Professor Brittany Parmentier, Medical Director at UT East Texas Emergency Medical System Dr. Yagnesh Desai, President/CEO of Northeast Texas Public Health District Dr. George Roberts and NETX Opioid Nurse Coordinator at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Abigail Riley.


Local
First Christian Church in Longview plans three-day garage sale

When it begins today, a downtown Longview church’s annual garage sale will be three times larger than it was a year ago, containing items from the donated estates of three people and tens of thousands of other items.

“We’ve probably got 20,000 items,” said Chris Shelton, co-chairman of the First Christian Church garage sale, now in its 34th year and literally overflowing the church’s gymnasium, with more items to display as room allows.

In addition to receiving the contents from the cleaned-out estates, the sale includes the contents of an Eden Drive house damaged May 8 when a severe storm blew a tree onto its roof, Shelton said.

“She donated so much stuff out of this house,” Shelton said of the woman who donated her property to the church. “And while we were talking to her, she did not have anything left.”

The woman donated 150-year-old antiques, he said.

“It is just great stuff,” Shelton said. “I am willing to bet we will be get a couple of thousand of dollars from the pieces.”

On Monday, the donor was given an early visit to the garage sale to shop for free for clothing and other needs.

Garage sale attendees will have a wide variety of items to choose from in good condition at a fraction of their original price, with proceeds benefiting the church’s upkeep, youth and outreach programs. They will range in price from a quarter for knicknacks and $1 for hardcover books, $2 for DVDs and up to $400 and more for refrigerators and furniture, Shelton said.

The garage sale, which is free to enter, is from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the Disciple House in the church, 720 N. Sixth St.

Attendees Saturday may buy a brown bag for $10 and take whatever they can fit inside it.

The church conducted both a live and silent auction Wednesday evening for its members in advance of the garage sale.

Shelton said he, his wife, Mallory, and mother-in-law, Jamie Dippold, added to the selection of items for sale by searching garage sales on Facebook and offering to take merchandise that did not sell at them. Church members and many friends also donated items.

Merchandise for sale include baby seats, pottery, chinaware, clocks, cribs, Christmas decorations, an espresso machine, desks, chairs, couches, candlestick holders, DVDs, CDs, CD players, record albums, a flat-screen TV, books, comforters, board games, puzzles, paintings and clothing.

The event is made possible by the work of from 20 to 25 volunteers who have spent the past two weeks handling tasks from sorting and pricing to setup, and more working the sale, Shelton said.

They include four generations of his own and his wife’s family: Dippold; her mother, Freddie Wood; and the Sheltons’ nephew, Noah Dippold, all of Union Grove.

Noah, 6, said the garage sale was fun because he likes “looking at different things.”

Organizers, including co-chairwoman Ann Grimes, said they hope the people who shop over the next three days will like it, too.

“People should show up, because we are going to give them a big bargain on other people’s treasures,” Shelton said. “But the real reason is to support this church and our community.”


Local
Tornado damages downtown Canton, prompts some road closures

East Texans braced Wednesday as storms ripped through the area, starting west of Van Zandt County and continuing into Wood County.

Van Zandt County appeared to be the hardest hit, after first responders radioed with one another about a tornado touching down around 3 p.m. and moving northeast.

A tornado caused major damage in Canton, particularly in the downtown area, according to News-Journal news partner CBS19. The storm also forced the closure of some roads in the Canton area, including Texas 64 at Texas 19, the television station reported.

Damage was reported on U.S. 175 at FM 1391 south of Kemp, according to CBS19, and U.S. 175 was closed because of storm debris.

Damage also was reported at Briarwood and Splitrail drives in the Cedar Creek Country Club area near Kemp.

According to the National Weather Service, at 3:32 p.m. a tornado was located over Grand Saline, or 10 miles west of Mineola, moving northeast at 50 mph.

The Grand Saline Police Department reported a funnel cloud on the ground in the area. However, the NWS did not officially confirm a tornado, according to CBS19.

The initial reports Wednesday afternoon came at the same time that the weather service had issued a tornado warning in Van Zandt County.

A dispatcher for the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office said at 4:09 p.m. that the office was receiving reports. Residents also took to social media to post videos and pictures.

Around 4:50 p.m., a spokesman for the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said another storm with a history of producing tornadoes was located about 10 miles west of Canton and headed that way.

At the time, the weather service said it spotted the thunderstorm around the border of Kaufman and Van Zandt counties and moving northeast, toward Canton, and likely to continue northeast toward Wood County.

At 5:02 p.m., the weather service tweeted out a warning saying there was a “very dangerous situation.” At 5:07 p.m, the weather service said a large tornado was still on the ground and headed toward Canton.

“We are getting many reports of debris and damage in and around Canton,” the weather service tweeted at 5:17 p.m. “Main threat is now moving to the north and northeast of Canton.”

At 5:23 p.m.: “Possible rain-wrapped tornado continues to move northeast of Canton, heading toward Grand Saline. Those in the path of the storm need to seek shelter now!”

The tornado warning remained in effect for northwestern Smith County and central Wood County until 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.


Local
Nucor submits $1.9M plan for temporary parking, access, guard house, locker room

Longview employer Nucor Steel plans nearly $2 million in improvements to its mill on Southwest Loop 281.

The mill, officially known as Nucor Steel Longview LLC, wants to build a new access drive into the plant from Loop 281, along with a guardhouse and temporary parking and a building for lockers and administrative offices.

Laney Newman, with Johnson and Pace engineering firm, submitted a site review application to the city’s Development Services division Tuesday. The company is seeking variances to city ordinances to begin the projects later this year.

The total estimated value of the project at 5400 W. Loop 281 is $1.9 million, according to the application.

Currently, Nucor employees park on property owned by neighboring manufacturer Komatsu Mining Corp., City Planner Angela Choy said.

Nucor’s proposal calls for a temporary parking area of 229 spaces and a locker room facility. A guard house and an access driveway also would be built.

Development Services Manager Vance Wyly said the company plans to use the temporary facilities for about two to three years. Future plans call for more than 1,000 parking spaces potentially to be added; the company owns 144.45 acres of land.

Newman will go before the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment on June 11 to seek multiple variances.

One variance is to a city requirement that off-street parking spaces are to be surfaced with concrete or asphalt paving. Nucor has proposed a gravel pavement because of the parking lot’s temporary use.

The company also wants a variance on the required number of parking spaces. With the temporary lot, Nucor would provide 231 parking spaces, but city ordinance would require at least 416 spaces because of the steel mill’s 415,179-square-foot size.

The city requires one space for every 1,000 square feet of building.

“Nucor Steel Longview currently has 160 employees,” according to the company’s variance application. “The steel mill operates three shifts with approximately 55 employees per shift. At max production levels, Nucor plans to employ a total of 200 employees over four shifts, approximately 50 per shift.”

A third variance application involves the city’s landscape ordinance, which requires that Nucor provide 8,432 square feet of landscaped area — 5 percent of its 3.88-acre proposed development.

The proposed improvements are in Nucor’s gravel laydown yard, where conditions aren’t conducive to vegetation, according to the company.

“They have the required tree count,” Choy said, “but they’re not meeting the required shrub count.”

Nucor intends to keep the existing wooded area along the frontage of Loop 281 for landscaping and screening, according to the company.

The ZBA meeting will begin at 11 a.m. June 11 inside Council Chambers at City Hall, at 300 W. Cotton St.


Correction

■ A story on Page 1A Wednesday about the death of community booster Ruby Floyd incorrectly reported the day of her death. It was Monday.