Groups remember more than 500 Travis County residents lost to overdoses in 2020

Travis County

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Several groups gathered Tuesday morning to remember more than 500 people in Travis County who died from overdoses last year.

The remembrance happened outside the Travis County Commissioners Court. The groups represented included the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, Grassroots Leadership and the Austin EMS Association.

“We’ve come together this morning because we refuse to lose 500 more members of our community in 2021,” Cate Graziani, the co-executive director of the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, said.

Graziani highlighted her group’s newly-released report that showed an increase in drug-related deaths “driven by the pandemic, lack of access to medications and support and the increased prevalence of fentanyl.” She and the other speakers called on county leaders to fund specific public health strategies in their budget to prevent more overdoses and save people’s lives.

Among those strategies, Graziani included expanded access to Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, which can help reverse an opioid-induced overdose. A recent investigation from KXAN revealed that few law enforcement agencies in Texas are accessing the grants to receive this life-saving antidote.

She also called for fentanyl-testing strips to become widely available throughout the community, a suggestion many of the speakers pushed for Tuesday.

A recent in-depth report from KXAN Investigates revealed that deaths caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100-times stronger than morphine, were higher than ever in Central Texas last year. The escalation in deaths has been driven, at least in part, by the spread of counterfeit pills laced with the potent drug.

Travis County commissioners are in the midst of finalizing the next fiscal year’s budget. The preliminary budget outlined several priorities, including a proposed increase in health and human services. The current proposal would increase the county’s expenditure in that particular area by $2,376,155, which is 3.22% higher than last year.

Within the health and human services proposals, the county would like to spend another $75,000 to maintain a contract with Integral Care to provide medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. Additional money is also proposed to be spent on more diversion programs, mobile crisis outreach teams and mental health resources.

Jose Martinez, who works as a recovery coach for the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, said he lost his cousin from an overdose in south Austin because of cocaine containing fentanyl.

“Travis County leaders need to take care of our community,” Martinez said.

Selena Xie, the president of the Austin EMS Association, said paramedics are finding a common pattern among the overdoses they’re responding to recently.

“Fentanyl is being found in everything,” Xie said.

The Travis County Commissioners Court is set to approve the final budget for fiscal year 2022 by Sept. 28.

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