AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Tuesday, local leaders announced Austin-Travis County has received $2 million in federal funds to address the growing number of overdose deaths in the region.
It comes as we wait for the 2022 Travis County Medical Examiner’s report to reveal just how deadly this year was in terms of accidental drug overdose deaths. In the first six months of 2022, there were already the same number of fentanyl overdose deaths reported as in all of 2021 — at 118 deaths.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) joined Austin Public Health officials, Mayor Kirk Watson and Travis County Judge Andy Brown Tuesday morning while making the announcement.
“It will go in[to] training, so we have more people out on the streets and elsewhere working with families, community leaders, to try to get the word out about prevention and then rescue as well,” Doggett said.
The funding will help support overdose prevention efforts, including expanding training for first responders and community members as well as increasing Narcan access. The money will also assist with treatment and peer recovery counseling services for those struggling with addiction, officials added.
Here’s an exact breakdown of where the money will go, according to the city’s grant application:
- $293,798 will go towards APH peer recovery coaches who will “conduct street-level interventions, educational outreach, and ensure clients are linked to the appropriate prevention, treatment, harm reduction, or recovery programs,” the grant application said and APH confirmed.
- $541,622 will be used for case managers that will help clients in jail who don’t end up at the Sober Center or are not hospitalized
- $191,000 will go towards social services and support services for the above clients
- $300,000 is set aside for public education and an additional $100,000 will be used for educating healthcare providers on “safe prescribing practices.”
- Roughly $500,000 will be used for Harm Reduction Rapid Response Teams. According to the application, Austin-Travis County EMS will be piloting the program
- $265,000 will be for expansion of counseling services
Doggett said the number of accidental overdose deaths from the first part of 2022 highlights a crisis impacting people of all ages, backgrounds and demographics.
“We’ve got to embrace the entire community,” he said, particularly noting high school age students who’ve died from accidental overdoses in neighboring cities.
Watson said the region received nearly 10,000 doses of naloxone in the fall, and has since provided those doses to the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance. However, he said the drug remains in high demand and short supply as many communities grapple with the same addiction concerns.
“We are in a public health crisis,” he said, adding non-reactive, preventative measures are also needed to fight the issue.
Brown said the county expects the total number of accidental overdose deaths from 2022 to dwarf the previous year’s stats, given the growing issues already documented in the region. The 2022 Travis County Medical Examiner’s report is expected to be released this April.
“These numbers are troubling and it’s very likely that they’re going to get worse when we see the next report in April,” he said, later adding: “A drug addiction or recreational drug use shouldn’t be a death sentence.”
Overdose deaths — fentanyl in particular — are top of mind for Doggett and other Texas lawmakers right now as the legislative session is underway.
The president-elect of the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals said they’re hopeful this session will bring big change.
There’s support across the aisle for harm reduction tools and treatments including: the legalization of fentanyl testing strips, increasing access to recovery housing and changing the way the state handles opioid prescriptions in pharmacies.
“But the biggest issue right now with access is that there’s just not enough residential detox and residential treatment beds. And a big part of that is the state’s funding for these services are inadequate,” Joseph Gorordo, the president-elect of TAAP, said.
Doggett also wants to see the state push more money to the issue and said he’s working this session, and outside of the legislature, to bring more money to Central Texas for resources.
“I hope we can see some resources here. Not only what I’m doing tomorrow but working with the city and the county, I’ll be seeking additional grant money,” he said.