TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Austin-Travis County health authority said younger people who are likely being given pills not made by pharmaceutical companies are increasingly ending up in emergency rooms in our area to be treated for overdoses.

The remarks were made during a Travis County commissioners meeting Tuesday. Dr. Desmar Walkes has been asked to brief commissioners for several consecutive weeks regarding an uptick in accidental overdoses and overdose deaths.

“There have been some deaths recently and the concern is that if somebody, a younger person under the age of 18, is experimenting with a pressed pill … that one pill could cause their death and that’s a big concern,” Walkes said, noting city and county data over the last 30 days showed an uptick in overdose-related emergency room visits for people under the age of 18.

Preliminary data sent to KXAN by Austin Public Health shows between Feb. 14 and March 14 there were 240 visits to the emergency room classified as an overdose. The peak number of visits was March 1 with 18 — the same day three people died of overdoses in Austin.

The age breakdown of those visits shows there were 15 babies under the age of four who showed up to Travis County emergency departments for what was classified as an overdose. There were 40 kids between the age of 5 and 17 in the same time period.

Overdose data
(Courtesy Austin Public Health)

The health authority said Austin Public Health is in the process of requesting nearly $3 million in funding from the federal government to do more surveillance and collect additional data about the drugs circulating in our community and what might be causing the rise in overdoses.

While data still needs to be collected, the people who have died over the past month in the Austin area have overwhelmingly been people who have taken pressed pills with a number of substances in them, Walkes said. For teens who are experimenting with pills, they could end up with something they weren’t expecting, she noted.

“There is an increase in the use of the pills that are mixtures of things and we’re going to take the action that we need to take based on this being a crisis situation,” she said.

Uptick in Narcan usage

Another indication that Travis County is seeing an uptick in drug overdoses is the amount of Narcan that has been administered by emergency medical services. Narcan is a brand name for naloxone and is an emergency treatment that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.

Walkes said Narcan has been used by area EMS roughly once every five days during March. She said they normally see usage at roughly once per month.

“We are continuing to get the information out to the public about Narcan,” Walkes said.

The director of operations at Recovery Unplugged also recommended people carry Narcan as an overall best practice last month when news was released that three people had died in a single overdose event.

“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.