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Leaders in Travis County provide update on 'public health crisis' of drug overdoses

Travis County leaders shared updates on the drug overdose crisis and the work being done to prevent further deaths from fentanyl.


On Monday, Travis County leaders provided an update on the drug overdose crisis in Austin and what prevention efforts the County has taken so far.

In May, Travis County declared overdoses from fentanyl a public health crisis. Since that declaration, the County has done a variety of work, including prevention, intervention and treatment for those affected. 

The declaration allowed the County to set aside funds for a variety of materials, including $350,000 for overdose prevention efforts. Of those funds, $175,000 was allotted to increase the availability of Narcan in the community and for overdose prevention kits. 

The update took place at 11 a.m. at Star Bar, located at 600 West Sixth Street, with a goal of including how well the County responded to the commissioners court's goals following the Travis County Medical Examiner's annual report for 2021

The annual report showed that fentanyl overdose deaths increased by 237%, with 35 in 2020 and 118 in 2021. 

"We are on track to double the number of overdose and fentanyl deaths this year," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. "There have been 199 deaths total, with 118 [of those deaths] in the first six months from fentanyl." 

Part of the initiative that the city and County are collaborating on is providing bars and various parts of the nightlife scene with Narcan. Travis County officials have created a partnership with community members to better provide community members with access to Narcan.

The program that the court will vote on is the Communities in Recovery program, which is expected to cost $175,000 and will provide peer-based support in East and South Austin to create relationships for those that want recovery. The majority of the budget when the county declared an emergency in May went to buying Narcan doses. 

"We're buying every bit we can get [under the] contract with Cardinal Pharmaceuticals," said Brown. "APH was able to get 9,000 of the [nasal spray] injectables and have distributed them. 840 boxes of Narcan, each box has two doses." 

SafeHaven Harm Reduction (SHHR), a nonprofit in Austin, received 90 boxes of Narcan from the city to help those in the nightlife scene. So far, their program includes 13 bars to distribute to. The first bar includes Star Bar, the bar that the press conference took place in. 

"Train the bar staff to be first responders. What we're doing is enabling our community members to be first responders," said Christie Mokry, executive director of SHHR. "What that means is that in the bars, they'll have [Narcan] available for anyone. If an overdose happens in a bathroom, they'll be able to give that life-saving medication."

The update also included the current status of overdose deaths throughout the county and detailed Travis County's Week of Action, a week-long effort that will support drug overdose prevention and intervention efforts.

"If you call 911 for someone that you see is experiencing an overdose, you will not be prosecuted here in Travis County. We need everyone to stay safe and stay alive, and we need your help to do that," said District Attorney Jose Garza.

Travis County also provided the following data:

  • There were 118 fentanyl-related overdoses in the first six months of 2022, with 199 overall overdoses.
  • In all of 2021, there were 118 fentanyl-related overdoses, with 308 total overdoses.
  • In the first six months of 2021, there were 62 fentanyl-related overdoses.
  • More than half of our overdoses this year involved fentanyl (59%) compared to 38% in 2021.
  • The number of women with overdoses involving fentanyl has increased.
  • The number of Asian American residents with overdoses involving fentanyl has increased from zero in 2021 to three in the first six months of 2022.
  • The number of African American/Black residents with overdoses involving fentanyl has increased.
  • The number of Hispanic residents with overdoses involving fentanyl has increased.
  • The average age of victim in the first six months of 2022 is 36 compared to 34 years old in 2021.

Watch the full press conference below:

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