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Drug-related deaths in Travis County have increased sharply in the last two years. Local health professionals, including Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes, said the increase is due to more fentanyl being pressed into pills. SOURCE: TRAVIS COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER’S OFFICECOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER DEADLY OVERDOSES
DRUG DEATHS OVER THE YEARS
DRUG DEATHS BREAKDOWN IN 2021
*The Medical Examiner's oce was not able to determine the age of one individual.
Ages 0-15 Ages 16-20 Ages 21-30 Ages 31-40 Ages 41-50 Ages 51-60 Ages 61-70
2018 2019 2020
focuses on health-based overdose pre- vention, at the May 3 town hall. “How many people need to die?” In 2021, 308 people died from drug overdoses in Travis County, according to the medical examiner’s report, an increase of 62 deaths from 2020. Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said a large contributor to the increase in deaths is a spike in fentanyl-laced pills on the street. Fentanyl is an opioid 50%-100% stronger than morphine that was cre- ated to address pain in cancer patients, according to the U.S. Drug Enforce- ment Agency. While it is still used for legitimate medical purposes when given by a licensed professional, it is also being sold on the street and mixed into other illicit substances. The Travis County Medical Examin- er’s Oce found fentanyl in 118 of the county’s 2021 overdose cases, up 237% over the previous year. Austin-Travis
County Management Services medic Mike Sassar said the department does not track causes of death, but he said he is concerned about the pills being passed around. “When a kid is getting [pills] from a kid in class or in youth group and goes home, no parent, no child will see a single pill and say this could kill me,” Sassar said at the town hall. Addressing the epidemic Emergency Travis County Commissioners Court declared drug deaths a public health emergency May 24. On June 8, Austin City Council dis- cussed plans to vote on a similar decla- ration at their June 16 meeting. “I think this might be the perfect time for us to really start talking about getting at it from the root instead of trying to repeatedly tri- age,” Council Member Natasha Harp- er-Madison said. She pointed toward poverty and
mental health as some of the underly- ing issues. Austin’s vote will direct money to Naloxone kits and medicine-assisted treatment; establish data collection around overdoses; and deepen part- nerships between ATCEMS, Austin Public Health and other city entities to facilitate better connections to treat- ment programs. Naloxone, often referred to by its brand name Narcan, is a nasal spray or injectable medication used to reverse an opioid overdose. Drugs such as Methadone fall under a category of medication-assisted treatment, which is used for patients with opioid use disorder. Along with Travis County’s declara- tion, commissioners voted to provide $350,000 in funding to the THRA and other nonprot organizations for sta, naloxone and hygiene kits; hold monthly meetings with community members; and advocate for changes
to state law, such as decriminalizing fentanyl test strips. Bee Cave Recovery is an intensive outpatient treatment program for drug and alcohol addiction in West- lake. The eight-week program relies on a proven Twelve Step model and includes two-and-a-half hour meet- ings four nights a week in group and individual settings. “This is an aiction that aects all classes and all socio-economic statuses across the board,” Executive Director Jim Anderson said. “We’re in Westlake, so we have a lot of very auent clients, but also we’re a non- prot. We provide treatment for those who are less fortunate and lower socio-economic status, and they’re all in the same group together.” Anderson co-founded the nonprot with Clinical Director Dennis McCarty, both recovered alcoholics with nearly 50 years of sobriety combined. Bee Cave Recovery receives a $500,000
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