One year into Travis County overdose crisis, has progress been made?

It’s been one year since Travis County declared a public health crisis due to the number of deadly drug overdoses occurring.

The state of Texas, the county and the City of Austin will be receiving millions in funding from a settlement related to a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. Representatives from local harm reduction organizations want to make sure the new funding is used effectively. 

"We are devastated by the loss of our community members and loved ones," said Cate Graziani, the executive director of the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance. "But it’s not because what we’re doing isn’t working, it’s because we need to do more."

City and county leaders heard from local advocates on Wednesday. Speakers asked that there be accountability when it comes to how the money is spent and shared about the needs they've seen on the front lines.

"Methadone saved my life, harm reduction saved my life," said Addy Menchaca, a community leader with Texas Harm Reduction Alliance who spoke on Wednesday. 

Despite Travis County earmarking hundreds of thousands of dollars into addressing the overdose crisis, 2022 was record-breaking. Fentanyl-related overdoses, specifically, doubled from the year before.

Looking ahead, nearly $3 million in opioid settlement money is coming to Austin and Travis County.

"My hope is that the state, with their billions in surplus, will buy enough Narcan for the whole state of Texas and for all the local governments and organizations to distribute it…so that we don't have to spend that money on just buying Narcan, and instead we can use it for things that are proven effective at reducing deaths, such as peer recovery coaches, maybe funding methadone and helping people who would otherwise use to instead use methadone," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown.

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Judge Brown also noted that efforts are underway to create a mental health diversion center that could serve as supportive housing for those struggling with substance abuse. Next month, a representative from the City of Miami, which already has a center, will come to Austin to meet with local leaders.

At the municipal level, council members will accept the City of Austin's first round of settlement money next week. They will also dedicate a full-time staff member to focus on the overdose crisis issue.