Drug Abuse in Houston: An In-Depth Look at the Houston Drug Problem

Last Updated on October 4, 2023

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Over the last decade, Houston, and Texas as a whole have experienced increases in the illicit trafficking of drugs and overdose deaths. However, according to a recent report from Houston Public Media, opioids may not be the biggest concern in the Greater Houston area. The state’s leading researcher on drugs and drug trends in Texas shares her insight on what she says is a more dangerous drug in Houston and Texas.

Drug Abuse in Houston Over the Last Decade

Houston is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a HIDTA, which stands for High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. According to the DEA, any geographical area that is classified as a HIDTA must qualify for the following reasons:1

  • The area must be a significant center of illegal drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution.
  • The area’s law enforcement have committed teams and resources to respond to drug trafficking issues.
  • The area suffers from a significant harmful impact due to local drug-related activities
  • A significantly increased amount of federal resources is necessary to properly address the drug-related issues in the area.

Houston meets the above criteria and is, therefore, an area of concern in terms of drug-related activities. Drug traffickers from Mexico often enter the U.S. through the southern border of Texas or through ports in the Gulf of Texas and many of those drugs remain in the Houston area.

Over the past ten years or so, research reports and statistics have painted a bleak picture of the drug abuse trends in Texas and Houston, revealing the prevalence of several dangerous addictive substances in the Houston area. Here are some of the most commonly abused illegal drugs in the Houston area.

  • Back in 2010, prescription drug abuse was on the rise across Texas, and Houston was a hotspot for accidental fatal overdoses involving prescription drugs. It was common for young people to party with prescription drugs like Xanax and Vicodin, and mix them with alcohol or other drugs.2
  • In 2011, a HIDTA Threat Assessment report identified marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drug abuse as the biggest concerns in the Houston area.3
  • The abuse of P2P (peer-to-peer) heroin and methamphetamine from Mexico increased in 2013 and 2014. There were 356 calls to the Texas Poison Center Network involving exposure to methamphetamine in 2013, compared to just 180 in 2010.4
  • In 2015, the Houston and Dallas DEA divisions ranked methamphetamine among the top two drug threats in their areas. This was coupled with increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, due to an increase in risky sexual activity or unprotected sex among young men with male partners. These behaviors are associated with meth abuse.5
  • In 2016, dangerous drug combinations like the “Houston Cocktail” (a blend of Vicodin, Soma, and Xanax) contributed to the deaths of hundreds of people in Harris County. Additionally, commonly abused drugs like painkillers and Kush took a backseat to cocaine, which alone, contributed to 205 deaths in Harris County in 2016.6
  • Last year, in 2017, synthetic marijuana (K2/Spice), methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin all topped the list of major drug problems in the Houston area, but the number one threat in Harris County was cocaine.7

Drug abuse trends in Houston are continually changing but one thing remains the same: although the Houston drug problem is not likely to go away anytime soon, Houston residents can get addiction help at an intensive long-term drug and alcohol rehab program like Nova.

Most Popular Illegal Drugs in Houston in 2017

Most people are aware of the ongoing opioid crisis in America, but According to Dr. Jane Maxwell, leading research professor at the University of Texas, opioids are not the biggest drug problem Texas faces.

Dr. Maxwell has been studying drugs and drug use trends in Texas for more than 40 years and according to her research, 31 percent of all Harris County arrests involving drugs involved cannabis and 25 percent involved methamphetamine. Arrests involving heroin were number seven on the list.

To accurately determine the most dangerous drugs in Houston and Texas, Dr. Maxwell takes into account four different factors:

  1. The number of poison control center calls
  2. The number of treatment admissions
  3. The number of arrests
  4. The number of deaths

To accurately determine the most dangerous drugs in Houston and Texas, Dr. Maxwell takes into account the number of poison control center calls, treatment admissions, arrests, and deaths. In considering the above factors, she determined methamphetamine and heroin to be the most dangerous substances in Texas.

The data cited by Dr. Maxwell is from the DEA National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), which collects results from drug chemistry analyses conducted by state, local and federal forensic labs nationwide. The NFLIS is a trusted source of information that aids in monitoring and understanding drug abuse and drug trafficking trends in the U.S.

According to Dr. Maxwell, most of the meth in Texas comes from Mexico and is made with a chemical that has been illegal in the United States since the early 1980s. This methamphetamine is much more potent, has a stronger effect, and is very popular with certain categories of people, such as men who engage in sexual activities with other men. As a result, we have experienced a shift in the population of people who are being infected with HIV.

Dangers of Methamphetamine Abuse

Methamphetamine is an extremely addictive stimulant that produces a sense of euphoria. Its effects on the central nervous system are strong and long-lasting, making it a frequently abused drug. Immediate effects of methamphetamine abuse include intense euphoria, increased activity, increased body temperature and respiration, rapid heartbeat, and decreased appetite.

methamphetamine crystals Long-term abuse of methamphetamine can cause psychotic behavior, extreme mood swings, anxiety, confusion, and violent behavior. In addition, chronic users of methamphetamine often become addicted due to the strong euphoric effects of the drug and the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.

Methamphetamine abuse can increase the risk of HIV/AIDS primarily due to the re-use and sharing of contaminated needles. Its effects also severely inhibit judgment and decision-making, leading to more instances of unprotected sex.

Although meth addiction in Houston is an ongoing problem, there are options for those seeking help. Meth detox in Houston is the first step to overcoming addiction. Medical detox provides a safe and effective way to stop abusing the drug, rids the body of toxins, and prepares clients for entry into a rehab program.

Following detox, meth outpatient rehab in Houston provides clinical and medical care, along with behavioral therapy and 12-step work to address the root causes of addiction and unhealthy behaviors that contribute to the substance abuse.

Opioids Continue to Be a Problem

Although methamphetamine is a big concern, heroin and opioid abuse continue to be a major concern in Texas as well. Dr. Maxwell suggests heroin abuse is just less of an issue here due to the fact that most heroin in Texas is black tar heroin, and to use it, you have to dilute it in water over heat first and then inject it. Conversely, in the Northeast, heroin is a white or tan powder. This makes it easier for users to mix in fentanyl powder and create a much more potent drug.

Dr. Maxwell said she believes by providing more substance abuse treatment for methamphetamine addiction and opioid addiction, the worsening of drug abuse in Texas can be limited.

Listen to the full report that was aired on Houston Matters here.


  1. https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Abuse-of-prescription-drugs-is-on-the-rise-across-1697224.php
  2. https://info.publicintelligence.net/HoustonHIDTA-2011.pdf
  3. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/texas2014a.pdf
  4. https://news.utexas.edu/2016/08/04/texas-has-a-new-methamphetamine-problem
  5. https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/deadliest-drugs-in-Harris-County-may-surprise-you-10895019.php
  6. https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2017/08/15/230652/what-illegal-drug-is-the-biggest-concern-in-houston/
  7. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-methamphetamine
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