According to a report from the DA’s office, over 240 people in Travis County lost their life in 2020 from accidental overdose. This is coupled with the over 100,000 Americans that died of overdose from April 2020 to April 2021, according to an article published by the New York Times. In 2020 drug overdoses were the second leading cause of accidental death in Travis County. An increase in overdoses can be seen through the continued abundance of Fentanyl in opioids and non-opioids. Substances like ecstasy tablets and Xanax are now seen being laced with Fentanyl. The pandemic has seen an increase in substance use and overdose as well due to in-person groups being cancelled, therapy sessions and resources being inundated or closed. The Travis County DA’s office is partnering with community partners to address substance use and overdose deaths as a public health issue. This shifts the treatment from an exclusively criminal issue to a preventative solution. The DA’s plan, supported by Travis County officials and State Representatives, Gina Hinojosa and Donna Howard, includes three parts. The first is to raise awareness through events like the December 4th event called “Safer Together: Overdose Prevention & Harm Reduction Saves Lives”. Raising awareness allows others to feel supported when they find themselves or their loved ones needing to ask for help. With an increased awareness around Fentanyl and its prevalence, people can learn what to do when someone overdoses and if they’re going to use, how to use safely. The second part is to provide training and support to the community with having access to Naloxone and the training to use it. Direct care staff at the Sobering Center are all trained on how to administer Nasal Naloxone. Naloxone is a lifesaving medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Lastly, the DA has made the pledge to provide additional resources and advocate for policy change. This includes advocating for the legalization of Fentanyl test strips, which if more widely available would save lives because users would be informed of what’s in their substance prior to consumption. The Commissioner’s Court has also allocated funds for the 2022 fiscal year to aid with medication assisted treatment such as Suboxone and Methadone. Methadone and Suboxone are often people’s first step in putting down a needle and seeking further treatment. Many users lack the funds to pay for Methadone or Suboxone or are required to wait weeks prior to receiving their first dose. The Sobering Center continues to be a presence at harm reduction, outreach and educational events. During 6th street outreach the Sobering Center hands out Nasal Narcan (Naloxone) kits and inform people on how to use it. When opiate users come through the door of the Sobering Center individuals are always offered Nasal Narcan to take with them and offered to come back if they need more. Several staff attend the Austin Area Opiate workgroup each month to discuss new and existing resources in town and pull together. Increased availability of Suboxone and Methadone would break down barriers to getting clients inducted on it sooner and getting them into a long term program while an individual is still hopeful.
A New Approach to Overdose