Sobering Center seeing harmful rise in amount of opioid usage

The Sobering Center is seeing a harmful rise in opioid usage and even recently administered Narcan to two patients.

The Center opened its doors August 23, 2018 and sees anywhere between 30 and 50 people each week.

"Every time you come here anyone comes in here that's acutely intoxicated they're going to be safe, every single time,” said executive director Dr. Rhonda Patrick.

Patrick says their number one priority has always been safety. In their April 2019 utilization snapshot, the Center said it had to administer Narcan to two patients after learning they smoked methamphetamine laced with fentanyl, a narcotic that, if taken in high doses or combined with other substances like alcohol, can cause respiratory distress or death.

"Really until the last couple of months primarily 98 percent of people that came in were all alcohol, now people coming in for other substances is at 15 percent so there's an increase,” said Patrick.

The Center is seeing a harmful uptick in the amount of opioids being used. Patrick says national data is saying cocaine and meth never really went away, but are making a resurgence.

"Just because (opioids) Austin isn't a Baltimore or San Francisco doesn't mean it's not happening. It's just happening in different ways,” she said.

As for how staff members knew when to administer Narcan, Patrick says early on her staff has been trained on recognizing signs and symptoms of overdose and how to intervene appropriately. They don't drug test at the Center, they simply pay attention to the clinical indicators and can tell when something is off.

"When we're talking to our young people, you don't know what drugs you're taking anymore, you don't know what's in them,” Patrick said.

Patrick says they're seeing substances that look like one thing when they're another, so she stresses that using an illicit substance can be risking choosing either life or death. 

The Center is launching a program in June called a "hospital wrap around” where it would revisit with those that go to the emergency room and are medically cleared so it can intervene. A small pilot program is expected to start at Dell Seton Medical Center with plans to expand to St. David’s South Austin Medical Center and six other major Travis County hospitals.