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Drug-related deaths in Travis County from prescription and street drugs 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 OFFICE COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER DEADLY OVERDOSES
DRUG DEATHS OVER THE YEARS
DRUG DEATHS BREAKDOWN IN 2021
Ages 0-15 Ages 16-20 Ages 21-30 Ages 31-40 Ages 41-50 Ages 51-60 Ages 61-70
*The Medical Examiner's o ce was not able to determine the age of one individual.
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 contribu- tor 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 created to address pain in cancer patients, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement 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. At the town hall Matt Hunt, a street
outreach medic with CommUnity- Care, which provides health care to individuals in encampments, said his patients were surviving cancer, assault and other trauma. “Then fentanyl comes to town and my patients are dropping like ies,” he said. “I am asking, we need to do something now.” Austin-Travis County Emergency 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 Travis County Commissioners Court declared drug deaths a public health emergency May 24.
On June 16th, Austin City Council voted on a similar declaration. “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 triage,” Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said on June 8th. She pointed toward poverty and mental health as some of the underly- ing issues. Austin’s vote directed 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 to treat 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. Both resolutions identied the need for more housing resources to address homelessness as an underlying issue in the drug crisis. Dr. Jason Pickett, the chief medical deputy director for the city of Austin, said ATCEMS is a key piece of the city’s response to addressing the crisis. The department’s Community Health Paramedic Team follows up with anyone who had an overdose and o¢ers them connections to treatment programs, if requested, or supplies and education. ATCEMS also o¢ers a Buprenorphine Bridge Program, to help individuals manage their symptoms
WE’RE ON THE ROADS AGAIN! Austin Public Works will be improving hundreds of streets this summer.
Helpful tips: • Loose rock is common and takes time to fully settle • Avoid sharp turning and hard breaking to prevent spreading rock • Park vehicles away from streets for two days Visit austintexas.gov/streetmaintenance to see if your street is scheduled to be resurfaced or to submit feedback on recent street maintenance.
COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER • COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM
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