AUSTIN, Texas - It’s a nationwide crisis that’s hit home.
"In the first six months of this year alone we’ve seen almost double the rate of fentanyl deaths and opioid deaths in our community," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown at a press conference Monday morning.
The county declared a public health crisis in May when drug overdoses became the leading cause of accidental deaths, and fentanyl-related deaths were up 237%.
On Monday, Travis County leaders shared the latest effort towards reducing these numbers.
"We here to announce the delivery of naloxone to our partner agency, the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, medical director & health authority for Austin Public Health. "We must address the systemic issues that are leading to the opioid abuse problem that we see in our country and our county, and we are here today to take the next step in achieving that."
Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization, provided a one-time donation of 9,900 doses of naloxone. The Texas Harm Reduction Alliance will help distribute via their drop-in center and through community outreach - something they already do.
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"In the past week we gave out 70 doses of intramuscular naloxone and then an additional 180 doses of nasal Narcan," said Gaby Libretti, drop-in center lead at THRA. "We have people who come in who tell us that they used Narcan on their loved one or that someone used Narcan on them, and we also have staff working here who are able to live great, quality lives because someone was able to save their life with Narcan."
Efforts have been ongoing to get opioid overdose reversal medication into the community.
In August, a free Narcan vending machine was installed in South Austin on the side of Sunrise Community Church.
During ACL, Judge Brown said an extra couple hundred doses of Narcan were requested to have on hand. Travis County provided another 60 doses to bartenders during the festival.
The county is also working with AISD to make sure Narcan is available at every campus. County leaders are also asking pharmacies to request naloxone for their shelves.
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Libretti noted that the work does need to go beyond just providing Narcan - and that's something THRA is always working on.
"We do want to advocate for more comprehensive harm reduction services and strategies in our community," she said. "Overdose reversal is a critical piece of that, but there are other things like access to health care, access to peer support, education about safer drug use, drug checking, fentanyl test strips, all of that is part of the work."
During Monday's press conference, Mayor Steve Adler said that the city and county are coordinating to launch an educational campaign in a month. He also said city council will be reviewing an agenda item in the near future that would designate close to a couple hundred thousand dollars toward more overdose-related training.