AUSTIN (KXAN) — A series of overdoses in Austin that killed two and sent a dozen people to the hospital is now at the center of a statewide investigation.
Xylazine, a drug used in veterinary medicine, is at least partially responsible for the increase in opiate overdoses in Austin over the past week, according to the Austin-Travis County Office of the Chief Medical Officer citing local hospitals.
For animals, the drug can be used as a sedative, pain reliever, muscle relaxer or induce vomiting, according to a Facebook post from the office which also noted human studies on the drug were halted due to side effects including depression, blurred vision and hypotension.
The post noted an “increase in opiate overdose incidents” and comes after two people died Friday in overdoses near Austin’s Sixth Street area. Early Friday morning, officials said they responded to seven overdose situations, with 13 ambulances taking over a dozen people to the hospital.
“For us from Thursday night at midnight through Saturday night at midnight, we saw the equivalent of about two weeks worth of overdoses in that two day period,” Commander over the Austin-Travis County EMS health paramedic, Blake Hardy said. “And we saw roughly about two months worth of fatalities.”
Hardy has seen it all. He said with more than a dozen overdoses in such a short time frame, people likely bought a bad batch of street drugs from the same dealer.
“And they’re being produced by someone who is not at an FDA-regulated manufacturer,” Hardy said. “So, you don’t really know what’s in the substance and you don’t know the strength.” “We’re actually suddenly seeing younger teens, 14 to 17 year old’s that get it from a friend and they think it’s a simple pain pill like mom or dad take.”
The Office of the Chief Medical Officer noted for providers that naloxone works to treat these overdoses — which the public might know better as Narcan, a brand name of the antidote — but that higher than normal amounts are likely to be needed.
“The drugs that we see here in Austin, they move on highways to our other major cities,” City of Austin Chief Deputy Medical Director, Dr. Jason Pickett said. “And as we see it here, we will tend to see it elsewhere.”
That’s why the Texas Department of Public safety, is now involved, working to find out where the supply is coming from.
“Most of the people who have been overdosing didn’t think they were using an opiate…and then within minutes they weren’t breathing and some of them are in cardiac arrest,” Hardy said.
The office also asked providers to document how someone ingested the drugs and any paraphernalia found “to assist other agencies in containing this outbreak and preventing further harm to our community.”
Earlier this week, the director of operations at Recovery Unplugged recommended people carry Narcan ahead of large events coming to Austin and as an overall best practice.
Narcan is a brand name for naloxone and is an emergency treatment that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.
“I recommend everybody get Narcan, there is a standing prescription order at every Walgreens, CVS and H-E-B in Texas to where anybody can go to any of those pharmacies and purchase Narcan themselves,” Layne Lomaglio said.
The uptick in overdoses is particularly concerning, with the SXSW festival coming up.
ATCEMS said it’ll be prepared with extra ambulances and responders, who will have more Narcan on them, to use. Police also say they’ll be looking out for drug dealers, some officers even patrolling under cover.