AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County staff have identified an initial price tag for putting together a consortium to engage the community on substance use disorders and plug holes in treatment gaps.

Travis County leaders were updated on that effort in Tuesday’s commissioners court during a monthly briefing on the growing crisis.

Identifying the severity of the problem

The Travis County Medical Examiner’s 2021 report showed for the first time in a decade drug overdoses were the leading cause of accidental death in Travis County. Fentanyl was found in more than a third of those cases, a dramatic increase year-over-year.

“One death from this is too much, but this is extraordinary and something that we need to take more seriously at every level of government,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown told KXAN shortly after the report was published.

Substance use disorder consortium

The City of Austin, Travis County and Central Health have previously committed to collaborating on a substance use disorder consortium.

While much of the project is still in the works, staff said all three entities would need to pitch in roughly $113,000 to get the project up and running. That would cover staff needs, operations and other expected costs such as translation and interpretation services and equity consultation. It will not include the actual services provided by the consortium, which have not yet been identified.

Those starter funds would come from the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, according to staff. The City of Austin proposed its 2023 budget last week, which does include funding for substance use treatment.

After that funding is designated, the county can work on a contract.

“Services are being provided,” Commissioner Brigid Shea clarified during Tuesday’s meeting, talking about other resources the county already provides. “We’re not just telling people ‘well, hold off until we finish this very thorough but long planning process.'”

Public health crisis declared, funding designated for immediate help

After the body declared drug overdoses a public health crisis, it also directed staff to come back with a monthly update and do the following:

  • Raise awareness of the risk of overdose deaths, the dangers of fentanyl and resources available in Travis County
  • Move $350,000 from the general fund to overdose prevention efforts, which broke down to roughly $150,000 for naloxone and overdose prevention kits and $200,000 for staff harm reduction distribution efforts
  • Look into additional methods for disposing hazardous material
  • Analyzing current county best practices when it comes to mental health, behavioral health and substance use treatment

“As overdose deaths continue to surge, we need to meet this crisis by putting resources into communities most at risk. That’s exactly what this declaration does,” said Paulette Soltani, director of organizing at Texas Harm Reduction Alliance.