Narcotics offenses in Waco spike, underscore complexity of drug crisis

Narcotics offenses in Waco have risen 21% since 2022. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Josh Siatkowski | Staff Writer

Despite a decrease in nearly all types of crime in Waco, narcotics offenses have risen 21% since 2022, according to Waco PD’s Crime Statistics Report. This number reveals the complicated reality of drug use and abuse in Waco and the U.S.

The first reaction to this statistic may be to assume that, following suit with the rest of the country, the use of narcotics is increasing in Waco. Although drug overdoses increased by 32% in Texas from 2019 to 2020, it’s only part of the reason narcotics arrests have increased.

Brook McKenzie is the chief operating officer of Burning Tree Programs, which owns Renewal Lodge — an addiction recovery center in Elgin. McKenzie said the increase in use and abuse of narcotics over the last few years is largely in accordance with a universal increase in prescription medication.

The total units of distributed prescription medication have skyrocketed from just under 4 billion in 2009 to nearly 7 billion in 2022.

Narcotics like fentanyl and oxycodone most often come in pill form, and with such a large increase in prescription pill usage, narcotics can now more easily seep into areas where more innocuous party pills are common.

“[Fentanyl] doesn’t look very threatening,” McKenzie said. “It doesn’t come with a big skull and bones on it.”

Because narcotics are so easily disguised as less harmful party drugs, they find their way into college and even high school parties. McKenzie said because of this, he’s noticed a shift in age demographics at Renewal Lodge.

“Ten or 15 years ago, I would say the mean age [for a Renewal Lodge client] was close to 28-30,” McKenzie said. “Now it’s much closer to 20, with the advent of fentanyl.”

McKenzie said he’s noticed another shift in demographics — the reason people enter rehab programs like Renewal Lodge. McKenzie cited the typical breaking points for people, like lost jobs and broken relationships, but he said as criminal narcotics offenses are becoming more common, they are also more often the reason for starting rehab programs.

“We have definitely seen a rise in admissions where the impetus to seek treatment has been because of an arrest,” McKenzie said.

Although a 21% increase in narcotics offenses looks concerning on paper, McKenzie said he isn’t upset by it.

“We’re actually looking at it favorably,” McKenzie said.

Cierra Shipley, the public information officer at Waco PD, explained why this increase might not be so bad.

“[The increase in narcotics offenses] is due to our enforcement efforts, and the increase does not necessarily mean there are more drugs in Waco,” Shipley said.

The enforcement efforts are largely due to Waco PD’s Violent Crime Strategic Response initiative, which was released in 2022. The initiative takes a dual approach to crime that focuses on the prevention of future crime as well as intervention in current crime. Despite looking alarming, increased crime rates can actually be indicators that the intervention portion of this response is effective.

While there is no data specific to Waco as of now, there is evidence to suggest enforcement efforts are helping. According to data from USA Facts, fentanyl-related deaths have reached an inflection point. From 2019 to 2021, deaths nearly doubled, but 2022 saw only a 4% increase in deaths.

Following these numbers, McKenzie said he believes legal intervention is the best way to stop an acute drug problem.

“If I’m speaking to a parent … and they’re reporting to me that their son or daughter has drugs and a stated history of drug use or abuse, I strongly encourage them to seek intervention and call 911,” McKenzie said. “If the police intervene, even if he or she goes to jail, the odds of getting into treatment, I would say, at a minimum, triple.”

Although narcotics are highly lethal and addictive, McKenzie said the biggest danger behind these drugs might not be their symptoms, but rather the fact that they downplay America’s most abused substance: alcohol.

McKenzie said constant press coverage of fentanyl has “definitely” led Americans to forget the fact that alcoholism affects far more people. When he asks people which addictions they think he sees most often at Renewal Lodge, the common responses are fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

“They aren’t even going to mention alcohol,” McKenzie said.

However, McKenzie said alcohol abuse is a “supermajority” at Renewal Lodge, estimating that over 80% of clients come in due to alcohol use disorder. In fact, according to AddictionCenter, one in 10 Americans over 12 years of age reported an alcohol use disorder — 10 times the number of Americans who suffered from opioid addiction.

Ultimately, then, the increase in narcotics offenses is both good and bad. It reveals a much-needed rise in enforcement efforts against a highly deadly drug crisis, and those arrests can be a catalyst for people getting the help they need. On the other side, however, it shows there is still work to do — and it might even distract from another less-lethal but more common and still debilitating addiction.

Although the complex problem is being addressed by large organizations like Waco PD and Renewal Lodge, McKenzie said the crisis also requires the compassion of individuals to speak out when something is wrong.

“If a student has a friend that they love and care about, and they’re concerned, I wouldn’t stop at bringing that concern to just that person,” McKenzie said. “Talk to the parents.”

For confidential, free help and information about substance use and treatment, call the SAMHSA national helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or reach out to Baylor’s Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center online.

Josh Siatkowski
Josh Siatkowski is a freshman Business Fellow from Oklahoma City, with majors in Economics and Professional Writing and Rhetoric. Josh is in his first semester at the Lariat, and he's excited to find interesting and important stories to share with his fellow students. He is still undecided about his post-college plans.