Opioid overdoses growing in Austin-Travis County, officials get money to prevent deaths

A new federally funded project has secured Austin Travis-County $2 million to battle the growing number of opioid overdose deaths.

"It can be a faceless problem if you allow it," said Adrienne Sturrup, Director of Austin Public Health.

According to the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office, Austin-Travis County saw 199 overdose deaths within the first six months of 2022 and 118 of those were fentanyl-related. That total for the first half of the year was already more than what the entire year of 2021 saw.

"It was really a wake up call that what we were doing is not enough," said Sturrup.

As a result, Congressman Lloyd Doggett spearheaded an effort and secured $2 million in federal funding for Austin-Travis County to use to address the growing number of overdose deaths. This is in addition to the already half a million the county has already invested.

"This is not just a problem of folks who are living on the street, but it might affect someone's grandmother who got hooked on opioids for pain reduction or a teenage high school or college student. We need everybody involved. That's why we're pleased to have city, county, and federal efforts," said Congressman Doggett.

The Travis County Medical Examiner's Office is set to release the total number of overdose deaths in April, but with the way the first six months went, 2022 is expected to be an unprecedented year.

"This year we're on track to be about 400 people in Travis County," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown.

Judge Brown says the increased number of overdose deaths could be tied back to mental health.

"COVID hit all of us very hard [and] mental health issues in our community have skyrocketed. Just the mental health side, we're not doing enough from the community. We need to do more," said Judge Brown.

Austin Public Health says they plan to use the newly acquired federal funds to further aid overdose prevention. One way is to enlist experts who can provide education support for the community. Another idea is a wide media campaign and hiring peer recovery counselors for community members facing addiction.

"I hope it reduces overdose deaths because we've got people who are addicted to drugs. We have people who may be a high school student who's experimenting with the drug. Neither of those situations should be a death sentence, so my hope is that it will help us stop the deaths and get education and peer counseling to folks that need it," said Judge Brown.