TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Austin Public Health is looking into the feasibility of declaring a public health emergency to curb overdoses, according to Travis County Judge Andy Brown.
“I do think we are in a crisis right now,” he said.
He’s pushing to implement more harm reduction tools in Austin and Travis County following a town where people struggling with addiction shared their stories and concerns.
Examples of harm reduction tools include clean syringes, accessible Narcan, medication-assisted treatment like methadone clinics and fentanyl testing strips.
“I frankly would prefer that people not use opioids or illegal drugs, but if they’re going to, it should not be a death sentence,” said Brown.
Austin-Travis County EMS said its biggest concern when it comes to fentanyl is the fact it’s not just showing up in heroin anymore, but in drugs like cocaine, opioids and even Xanax.
In February, neighboring New Mexico passed a bill to make the strips legal in a 32-3 vote.
Judge Brown said he’s asking Texas lawmakers to take the issue up in the next legislative session.
“This could reduce this extremely high number that we have in Travis County of drug overdoses,” he said.
According to the 2020 Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office report, more people died from drug overdoses than traffic accidents in 2020.
“We’re trying to reduce speed in parts of the county, we do things to try to reduce the harm in so many other areas, it just makes sense that this is another area where we should try to reduce the harm, and the deaths that are occurring,” said Judge Brown.
In a statement, council member Vanessa Fuentes said she “fully” supports declaring a public health emergency.
“I believe it is absolutely necessary to address the rise in overdoses in our community. Policy makers at all levels of government must develop and implement policies to address this and work directly with harm reduction organizations to implement practices proven to reduce overdoses and save lives,” the statement read, in part.
There is no current timeline as to when the decision about a declaration will be made.