AUSTIN (KXAN) — Representatives from the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance are urging city and county leaders to declare a public health emergency as overdose numbers rise.

This was the topic of discussion during a Tuesday night town hall where community members impacted by overdoses and homelessness, Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS), Travis County District Attorney José Garza, County Judge Andy Brown, city council members and Travis County commissioners spoke.

According to the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance’s news release, Austin saw a 28% increase in overdose deaths between 2019 and 2021.

ATCEMS Commander Blake Hardy said fentanyl is now showing up in pills, which is the most concerning development to his agency.

“When people buy heroin, they understand that it’s going to be dangerous,” he said. “But now we’re seeing fentanyl show up in things aren’t even opioids. Xanax, for example.”

Hardy is also worried this is resulting in more teens getting ahold of deadly drugs.

In March, law enforcement launched a drug-focused task force to combat a string of downtown overdoses that took place right before South by Southwest.

Addicts and advocates at the town hall called for things like:

  • Easier access to naloxone (brand name, Narcan)
  • Fewer restrictions to get into clinics
  • Making fentanyl testing strips legal
  • Access to clean syringes
  • Ceasing banning people with criminal records from access to housing
  • Ending homeless camp clearing

At the end of the town hall, city and county leaders said they were committed to finding answers to the concerns raised. Most also said they would support declaring a public health emergency but cautioned such an act would not bring about immediate funding.