Key Takeaways from our Discussion on Substance Use in Texas

We were thrilled with the strong interest in the three-part discussion series we hosted from October to December 2017, “Substance Use Among Youth and Families: What are the Big Issues and What is Texas Doing about It.”

Our December 5th blog post looks back on the first two discussions. This blog highlights the final discussion on December 12th and key takeaways from the full three-part discussion series.


At our final meeting, we focused on how the public health, CPS system, and criminal justice systems respond to substance use issues and the resulting effects on Texas kids:

  • Julie Steed from HHSC emphasized the need for a public health approach since addiction is a chronic disease. She shared updates on the number of pregnant women receiving substance use disorder treatment through HHSC-funded programs, rates of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and best practices in hospitals and public health settings to boost outcomes for mom and baby. She provided an overview of how Texas is spending a new federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). She also discussed new HHSC work to expand access to Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) and support other efforts to reduce overdose deaths.
  • Leah Davies from UT-Austin’s Center for Disability Studies highlighted efforts to reduce prenatal alcohol exposure, raise awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and improve screening rates for moms and babies.
  • Marco Quesada from DFPS shared data on CPS removals due to parental substance use and the benefit of individualized plans for families to ensure success.
  • Falba Turner from Austin’s Seedling Foundation focused on the number of Texas parents incarcerated for drug offenses or who have substance use treatment needs in prison. She also highlighted the effects on the children of these incarcerated parents. She stressed that helping parents address their substance use challenges in the community would not only help the parents get back on track but also reduce the number of children with multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) affecting their ability to do well in school and thrive.

Some of our big takeaways from this three-series discussion include:

  • Texas is fortunate to be home to many experts on substance use programs and policies, both in government and in the community.
  • There is a range of effective prevention, intervention, and treatment services available in Texas communities and schools but they are far from reaching all the children and families who could benefit from them.
  • Texas HHSC has new and expanded initiatives in place to boost access to prevention programs, Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) and recovery-oriented treatment, and increase public education. But these efforts are funded mainly through limited federal dollars and could be greatly enhanced with added state investment.
  • There are glaring gaps in our state and local data systems and a lack of system alignments that make it very challenging for policy and community leaders to assess the full scope of Texas’ substance use challenges, overdose rates, regional needs, and meaningful access to effective prevention and treatment programs.
  • A number of hospitals and community health programs follow best practices to support pregnant women with substance use challenges and babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), but these practices should reach more regions of the state.
  • The high number of CPS removals of children due to parental substance use is a clear sign that Texas needs to invest in effective substance use prevention and treatment services so more children can remain home in safe environments with their parents.
  • Too many youth are confined in expensive juvenile facilities for drug possession or use or have unmet substance use treatment needs that would be addressed more effectively in community settings closer to the youth’s home.
  • Judges, probation officials, CPS, health officials, and other community leaders are concerned about the effects of opiate, methamphetamine, Fentanyl, synthetic marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol use on Texas children and families. There are stark regional variations in rates of opiate, Fentanyl, and methamphetamine use that need more targeted community-level and state attention.
  • Effective prevention, treatment, and recovery options – like peer supports and recovery coaches – have helped youth and families stay healthy and thrive. While the media talks a lot about the “crisis,” it is also important to highlight success stories of recovery and resilience.

As background work to inform this discussion series, we produced a number of draft documents that we may update over time, including a Youth Prevention Funding Map and Youth Treatment Funding Map. These maps show how Texas’ youth prevention programs and treatment services are funded and operate across the state. We also hope the Powerpoint presentations we shared at our October discussion and November discussion provide key information and data that state leaders can use in forthcoming policy discussions.

We appreciate the tremendous interest in our Children’s Policy Series on substance use issues in Texas and thank everyone who participated. The need for strong prevention, early intervention, and treatment services for substance use and co-occurring mental health challenges is clear, and we’re grateful that many key policymakers are closely paying attention.

The conversation on these and related issues will continue on March 22nd in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing, in upcoming hearings of the House Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse, and in other hearings and meetings over the course of 2018.

We look forward to working with policymakers and stakeholders over the next year on a number of these critical issues related to substance use and the impact on Texas children.