Austin declares drug overdose deaths a public health crisis
Austin City Council members unanimously passed a resolution declaring drug overdoses a public health crisis on Thursday.
The measure allows for increased support services necessary to address the rising number of deaths from opioids. Travis County witnessed 308 people die from preventable overdoses in 2021, a 237% increase from the previous year. Of that figure, 118 deaths were attributed to fentanyl, a drug far more lethal than heroin.
One of the key components of the measure is to expand naloxone-based interventions, which can reverse an opioid overdose. Austin will equip and train first responders and city departments with medical-assisted treatment options to address drug overdoses.
The city will also develop and execute a comprehensive local plan of action that prioritizes prevention strategies and support services for substance use disorders.
Texas Harm Reduction Alliance (THRA), a policy and community advocacy group working with the council to get the measure passed, lauded the move to expand the essential tools and services as vital to addressing this public health danger.
“We’re relieved to see the City Council declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency in Austin today,” said Cate Graziani, Co-Executive Director of THRA. “We’re eager to see this resolution supported even further through the upcoming budget and millions of dollars coming down from opiate settlement funds.
“For 50 years we have been funding War on Drugs strategies. The results have left us with the worst overdose crisis our country has ever seen, and the impacts extend far beyond policing and incarceration. Austin is no exception—we see the impacts of the drug war on our streets everyday. People are trapped in poverty, lose access to housing, health care, and so much more. If the city wants to address the overdose crisis in the long term, we must address deep underlying needs that drive deaths and harm.
We want to thank Councilmember Fuentes, Councilmember Kitchen, and the rest of the City Council for supporting this resolution and re-starting this important conversation within the City Council. We look forward to working together to do even more.”
A similar crisis declaration was made by Travis County commissioners in May to invest $350,000 into harm reduction measures. The council resolution builds upon those efforts and strategies.