AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin entered into an agreement with Communities for Recovery, a local recovery community organization, to provide some funding to increase outreach and lower the amount of opioid overdoses in the city.

On Oct. 19, the council voted to provide $250,000 to Communities for Recovery for a one-year contract, with an option to extend the contract by one year for another $250,000. That money will be used to hire more peer coaches at the center, according to Darrin Acker, the executive director of Communities for Recovery.

“It’s very important,” district 6 council member Mackenzie Kelly said after the vote. “It’s going to be providing much needed peer recovery counseling services for community intervention.”

Communities for Recovery

Communities for Recovery started in 2004 and was strictly volunteer-based. In 2012, the organization switched to peer recovery coaching and now has 36 people working at the center.

It uses what is called “assertive outreach” to meet with addicts and those who are most vulnerable to overdoses.

“There’s not an end result in any of this. It’s about meeting people where they’re at now, and getting them what they need now,” Sean O’Brien, one of the peer support specialists at Communities for Recovery, explained.

O’Brien said he meets with a lot of addicts who do not have active housing. He says the amount of overdoses in the community is unprecedented. According to Austin Public Health’s Opioid Overdose Data Dashboard, there were 170 fatal overdoses and 175 nonfatal overdoses in 2021. In 2022, there were 2,129 overdoses.

That spike in overdoses can be credited to fentanyl, O’Brien said. It is being laced into other drugs without people knowing.

“It’s called drug poisoning. Someone goes out and they want to use a stimulant — well that stimulant is laced with fentanyl,” O’Brien explained.

The peer support specialists are trying to connect with addicts in the community and offer support, which is different from help. O’Brien said addicts do not like to be told what to do. He and his colleagues are trying to form genuine connections and relationships with people and offering education on drug overdoses or how to use drugs safely.

Increasing outreach

Acker said he hopes the additional funding from the city will help hire three to four more peer support specialists. Currently, the organization has 20 partner sites where people can walk in to get help, but they want to increase their outreach efforts. That means finding people who need the help, and not waiting for them to come to you.

“They may be coming out of the emergency rooms. Where can we connect with people that are identified as they need extra support and they’re asking for it,” Acker explained.

This adds to the efforts by the city to address the problem of overdoses in our area. In April, council passed an ordinance to get Narcan into the hands of businesses and city buildings that are located in overdose hot spots.