AUSTIN (KXAN) — Law enforcement in Hays County said their investigation indicates fentanyl linked to recent student deaths is coming from Mexico to the greater Austin area and trickling into Hays County.
Austin-Travis County EMS said it’s aware of and tracking the fentanyl problem.
It’s preparing for a possible increase in overdose calls ahead of big events that are expected to bring thousands of people into the area, like this weekend’s UT-Alabama game or the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
“Are we concerned about these events attracting overdoses? No, we’re not. Will they potentially occur just because of the sheer number of people attending? Yes, they might,” said Kevin Parker, ATCEMS emergency management and special events division chief.
Preparation includes making sure his crews are stocked with Narcan for opioid-related overdose calls, like fentanyl, ahead of big events.
Trucks are also stocked with additional bags, in case they need to administer multiple doses of Narcan, he said.
“We have additional units on duty, our special response units that have additional Narcan in the case of fentanyl, available for use. And then we have caches available to us at some of our various locations that we can easily access in a moment if we were to have multiple overdoses at an event,” he explained.
Parker said they partner with St. David’s Health for UT games and Ascension Seton for ACL Fest. Those providers staff tents on site and help administer first aid and medical care.
After EMS responds to the initial emergency, it also has a team that follows up with the patient with extra resources, including a Narcan kit, which includes a nasal spray, and instructions on how to use it.
Parker said while they don’t have specific data right now on the number of overdose and fentanyl-related calls, they are seeing two big trends, the first being people who unknowingly ingest fentanyl, thinking they are getting something like Adderall on the street.
“They may think it just contains Xanax, but it contains Xanax and fentanyl, and that is leading to a more severe overdose or even to their death, and that is skewing younger,” he said.
Another, more recent trend they’ve seen over the past few weeks, Parker said, is people who are seeking fentanyl but may not know how deadly even a small amount can be.
“People are intending to take fentanyl, not necessarily intending to overdose,” he explained. “Fentanyl that you don’t get from a pharmacy can be a one-pill kill; it can take one pill, and it will kill you.”
Law enforcement in Hays County said they’re also seeing both of those trends, after four Hays CISD student deaths have been linked to fentanyl this summer and into the new school year.
Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said some students know they’re taking something that has fentanyl in it, but they don’t know how lethal it is.
“These pills, they’ll break them up into small pieces, and they’ll share those pieces or take a small piece at a time, because they think that is safe. That is absolutely not true,” Barnett said during a press conference Thursday. “Again, these things are street made, they are not made in a lab, they’re not even — they’re not a properly constructed medication that they take, so even one piece of a pill could be deadly.”
Kyle Police said it arrested a 20 year old and 16 year old linked to 400 counterfeit Percocet pills containing fentanyl.
Parker said street versions of fentanyl change, and they keep track of the trends and notify crews on the ground, so they know what to look for as they respond to events.
He and Hays County officials want students, parents and the community-at-large to be aware of any drug off the street.
“Anything that somebody gets that is not from a licensed physician and a pharmacy, you don’t really know what you’re getting unless you get it from that physician and from that pharmacy,” Parker said.
Some groups have been trying to make fentanyl testing strips available to the community.
It’s a way to test drugs, powders and pills for the presence of fentanyl, and advocates say it can help stop people from accidentally taking a pill laced with fentanyl. However, the strips are currently illegal in Texas.
ATCEMS said it doesn’t use testing strips and bases its response on other signs like if a patient has a lower level of consciousness or alertness or their breathing slows down.