Texas County could declare public health crisis to tackle drug overdose deaths

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County Judge Andy Brown said he is considering declaring a public health crisis in response to the growing number of people who have died from drug overdoses. It comes on the heels of the Travis County Medical Examiner’s 2021 report.

That report showed for the first time in a decade that drug overdose was the leading cause of death in Travis County. Fentanyl was found in more than a third of those cases.

“Drug overdoses are a crisis in our community and fentanyl is exacerbating the problem,” Brown said in a press release. “At Travis County, we believe that all people should have access to the mental, behavioral and substance use treatments that can save lives. Our community has asked for help in implementing lifesaving, harm reduction strategies for those who overdose on drugs.”

The judge also said he had applied for funding for naloxone in the fiscal year 2023 budget. Narcan, a brand name for naloxone, is an emergency treatment that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. He continued to push for harm reduction treatments to become available.

“We will do everything we can to address this crisis and call on other leaders to do the same. Texas must legalize fentanyl test strips, naloxone must be available throughout the community, and recovery programs must be fully funded to eliminate waiting lists,” Brown said.

Fentanyl test strips can be used to test drugs, powders, and pills for the presence of fentanyl, which is often more potent than other drugs and can be fatal. The strips allow people to take extra measures to protect themselves or not to use the drugs at all.

But under the Texas Controlled Substances Act, drug testing equipment is classified as drug paraphernalia, making it illegal for people to test recreationally. Some groups are still shipping the tests to Texas regardless of the law.

“It’s something that from what I’ve heard, especially from the harm reduction community, would save lives,” Brown previously told KXAN. “We definitely want to explore the possibility of making them available to the public if they are allowed under state law.”

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