Corralling the Pills: Rural East Texas Counties Take on Big Pharma Over the Opioid Crisis

Dec 05, 2017

Travis Strickland has been fighting the war on drugs for more than a decade. He’s a sergeant in the Lufkin Police Department’s special services division, which includes the street crime and narcotics units. The job used to involve taking apart methamphetamine labs that sprouted like prickly pears around rural Texas. Then Mexican drug cartels took over the meth trade and the labs moved south.

A couple of years ago, Strickland helped bring down two operatives linked to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel. Locals still recall the arrest; it’s not every day an army of federal, state and local law enforcement officers with a couple of helicopters descends on the parking lot of a Buffalo Wild Wings for a 26-pound meth bust.

“It doesn’t hurt my feelings that we don’t have any more meth labs because I hated taking those things apart,” Strickland says. “We didn’t know about the phosphorous gas and all the stuff associated with it. We do now. We suit up now. Back then, you just took a chance not to get blown up.”

Strickland isn’t a hardened, swaggering Clint Eastwood type of cop. Clean shaven with a conservative haircut, he could pass for a soccer coach as he takes a seat at a conference table one Tuesday morning in late November at the Alcohol & Drug Council of Deep East Texas, a nonprofit prevention and treatment center that covers 13 counties. Several drug counselors, including Danna Bailey Watts, Tobin Wells and Brad Bell, join him to discuss what has been called a national emergency: the opioid epidemic.

By Christian McPhate

December 5, 2017 4:00AM

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