AUSTIN, Texas - At the Star Bar on West 6th, the night-life not only includes ordering up different types of drinks, something else will be available there that can save a life, Narcan.
The nasal spray medication can revive a person who has overdosed on opioids.
"I think it's very important to improve the public safety, not just for Austin, but for the entertainment community as well," said Max Moreland with FBR Management.
Moreland announced they will be part of a new initiative launched by Travis County. The goal is to make it easier to access Narcan.
Moreland’s bar staff, at their 13 locations, are being trained how to administer the medication, essentially becoming a new type of first responder.
"We certainly understand, especially today on a national level, the staffing shortages we're seeing within APD and county and city emergency services. Any bridge that we can provide to extend that lifeline and hopefully get the emergency services here faster through the use of Narcan. We're more than happy to help," said Moreland.
The FBR Management Bar locations include the following:
- DuMONTS DuMonts
- Dive Bar
- Field House
- Gibson Street Bar
- Lolas Little Nugget
- Lavaca St. Bar
- Mean Eyed Cat
- Midnight Cowboy
- Stagger Lee
- Star Bar
Ninety boxes of Narcan are being provided to the bar-medics. The medication was purchased by Travis County and provided to a nonprofit called SafeHaven. The group will also do the bar staff training.
"In the bars, they'll have it just available for anyone. And so if an overdose happens in a bathroom or something like that, they can be able to give that lifesaving medication at that time. An overdose is something that impacts everyone now that fentanyl has poisoned our drug supply," said Christie Mokry with SafeHaven.
County officials could not say when the Narcan training at the bars will be completed. The hope is that the bar staff will help slow the dramatic increase in drug overdose deaths.
Austin Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said many of the cases are linked to drugs laced with fentanyl.
"These numbers are staggering and very concerning," said Walkes.
Last year, 118 people died in Travis County from drug overdoses with fentanyl in their system. That same number was hit in the first six months of this year.
"So we're on track basically to double the number of overdose and fentanyl deaths this year," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown.
To stop the dying, Judge Brown is doing more than starting a drug war bar fight. County commissioners on Tuesday are expected to approve a $175,000 contract for counseling services. A nonprofit called Communities for Recovery will get the money.
"So we're going to provide peer support at 2 site based positions, those sites being Sunrise Navigation Center on the south side and over on the east side at the other ones foundation, the Esperanza community. So those will be two peer support specialists, one to each site to provide. Basically what we do as peer support is we foster relationships and hopefully healthy relationships for people that want recovery or want to improve their quality of life by achieving the goals that they set," said Phil Owen with Communities for Recovery.
Travis County DA Jose Garza announced his support by making a promise.
"And I want to be clear that if you call 911 because you see someone experiencing an overdose, you will not be prosecuted here in Travis County," said Garza.
Getting more Narcan into the community will, apparently, require more help. That extra help will have to come from state lawmakers.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown, seemed confident the bar Narcan initiative will save lives, but he admitted to fully address the drug overdose crisis, some state laws need to be changed.
"This whole process is made more difficult by a state law that says that we as the county cannot pay an entity to distribute Narcan or naloxone, which makes no sense to me. And so our hope is that that law will also change, because what we're doing right now is we're giving it to Christie. We're not paying Christie to do it, and then she's distributing it," said Judge Brown.
Supporters of the County initiative are also hopeful that the Texas legislature will legalize fentanyl strips, so people who are using drugs can test to see if fentanyl is in the drugs they are using.
Brown said it is currently illegal in Texas to provide those strips, while it is legal in other states like New Mexico.