AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s known as the “Weirdest Little Church In Texas.”
Sunrise Community Church in south Austin draws people from across the city.
Now the county’s first Narcan vending machine sits outside the church and Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center.
“It’s kind of crazy that like, you know, the first one in Texas is on the side of a church. I think that’s kind of funny, because like, you know, a lot of people are still kind of — it’s still a stigmatized thing,” said Mark Hilbelink, director of Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center. “It’s something that is a huge thing for us to be able to have. It’s obviously expensive, it’s obviously has been difficult to get up until now.”
The N.I.C.E. Project (Narcan in Case of Emergency) partnered with Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center to provide 24/7 access to life-saving medication.
“With fentanyl being found in the local street drug supply, Narcan can be very important to have on-hand in case someone encounters opioids unknowingly or at a higher dose than intended,” said Em Gray, with The N.I.C.E Project, in a news release. “This is long overdue. This need has been under-resourced for a long time, and often, people don’t know how to access Narcan, where to access it or sometimes how to use it. They often only hear of it because of the loss or near-loss of a friend, loved one, or acquaintance.”
Narcan available again
The emergency treatment that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose is available again in Texas.
KXAN investigators first reported in the spring about the state scrambling to find more doses of Narcan. For months Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, was hard to get through a state program because of high demand and low supply.
On Aug. 12, the More Narcan Please program operated by the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing had an update saying it’s, “Now Accepting Requests for More Narcan.”
“It needs to be available for everybody, you know, grandmothers, whatever. But, you know, the reality is, is that’s not what we’re having in the state of Texas now, so it’s limited,” said Charles Thibodeaux, co-founder of Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative.
The state program said online that an “increasing emphasis is being placed on ensuring naloxone is distributed to people most likely to witness and respond to an overdose.”
Also, organizations can request a maximum of 48 units, and once those have been distributed other orders can be placed. Beyond the nasal spray form organizations can now also get intramuscular naloxone which is given using a syringe.
“What I do like about the limitations that More Narcan Please placed is that they’re more focused on getting this medicine into the hands of the people that need it most,” explained Thibodeaux who provides Narcan training across the state.
More funding coming
He was able to request more doses just this week.
“I mean, to sit back to be a harm reductionist knowing that the rates of overdose are skyrocketing, and then to have run out of Narcan is just it’s unheard of,” said Thibodeaux.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees federal funding for the distribution program, said at least 10,573 units, which includes two doses of nasal Naloxone, were purchased through the end of this month.
The program will receive a renewed contract for $5,588,225 for the fiscal year 2023 starting in September to continue distributing Narcan. A state spokesperson said the budget supports the purchase of at least 88,421 units of naloxone.
The supply comes as Travis County is seeing more overdose deaths.
The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office’s 2021 annual report found 308 people died from accidental drug overdoses last year, up by more than 60 deaths from 2020.
Fentanyl-related deaths were up 237% from 2020.
“We’ve come a long ways”
Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center located at 4430 Menchaca Rd. said because it provides services to hundreds of people every day, it was critical to get the vending machine installed.
Funding came from a microgrant from Austin Mutual Aid.
Sunrise said it integrates harm reduction and substance abuse care into its whole-person approach while partnering with other organizations.
“Sunrise is an ideal location to not just get Narcan, but to address the long-term causes and repercussions of substance abuse in a supportive, integrated environment,” Hilbelink said. “People experiencing homelessness are especially at risk of overdose due to a lack of a support system, dismal access to mental health care, the availability of street drugs and the constant threat of legal consequence as a result of simply being homeless in Austin.”
Sunrise said free vending machines of Narcan have proved successful in cities like Philadelphia, Las Vegas, San Diego and Ann Arbor.
“What I tell people is, pretty much everybody in 2020 knows someone who has had a family member pass away from, you know, from a fentanyl overdose. And so I think that, you know, in terms of the willingness to accept it as a solution, and I think that we’ve come a long ways, not just because of public knowledge, but also because tragedy has struck so close to so many people that I think that people understand the need for it at this point,” explained Hilbelink.