AUSTIN (KXAN) — Overdoses typically spike in the spring, but Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS) said that’s not the case this year.
Last year, the week before SXSW – two peopled died from overdoses and at least a dozen went to the hospital in what police called an “alarming” 48-hour period.
This prompted the Austin Police Department (APD) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to issue a poignant warning ahead of the festival.
Over the past year, multiple city and county efforts have gone toward curbing overdoses and keeping the deadly drug fentanyl off the streets.
This year, as ATCEMS crews go full throttle on SXSW safety efforts, the agency is happy to report overdose numbers are down.
“They’re not as high as last year, so that’s a good thing,” ATCEMS Commander Eric Gordon said. “I think public messaging and awareness is going really well. I think people are understanding the risk of that and how dangerous using those drugs can be, so I think that is definitely helping.”
While medics are prepared to respond to overdoses and are stocked up with naloxone – medicine used to treat overdoses – the dip in overdose numbers can give them more space to focus on all of the other downtown medical calls during SXSW.
This is where the ATCEMS field hospital comes in.
“So the care they receive here is to get that initial treatment, stabilization… and then transport if need be,” Gordon said. “And if it’s something minor, we can handle it here.”
The field hospital is on Fifth Street at Brazos Street.
Anyone who calls 911 for a medical emergency in a geo-fenced area of downtown Austin will get taken to the field hospital in a special response unit — a type of ATV that can move more easily through crowds than an ambulance.
“The goal of that being that we don’t have an impact on the 911 system and take those units away from our community,” Gordon said.