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  • Writer's pictureKim May

Travis County Declares Public Health Crisis

Overdose deaths have been receiving massive amounts of coverage for the past two years as the numbers continue to rise.

And yes, they are staggering. In 2020, approximately 93,000 lives were lost due to overdose and 2021 saw they number go past 107,000. If like me, you have difficulty conceptualizing large numbers, 107,000 is the approximate population size of Denton, TX.

While it is moving to finally see the nation, and our own local community take notice, for those of us working in this field and certainly for those who live with a substance use disorder an overdose crisis has been occurring for decades. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one to overdose when the overdose crisis began, and they will tell you it started the day their loved one died.

But, timely or not, Travis County is beginning to see the need to place more time, money, attention, and resources to preventing overdose in our community.

Overdose deaths in Travis County

According to the 2021 Travis County Medical Examiner’s Report, in 2021 308 people died of a drug overdose. This marks an increase of fifty from 2020. Fentanyl was listed as the cause of death in 118 cases, marking an increase of 237%. For sake of comparison, 107 people died in the same year from motor vehicle accidents.

Demographics for overdose deaths in Travis County

Caucasian males made up the vast majority of the overdose deaths. Of the 308 deaths, 66% were Caucasian and an astounding 79% were male. However, there was less disparity between the age groups. There were sixty-five deaths in the age group of 21-30, sixty-three for 31-40, sixty for 41-50, and fifty-seven for people aged 51-60.

With regards to the 118 deaths in which fentanyl was detected, 80% were male and 94% were Caucasian. The age group with the highest number of fentanyl deaths was the 21-30 age group with forty-two, followed by thirty-six in the 31-40 category.

Overdose deaths were not spread evenly across the county. They tended to be concentrated across twelve zip codes. The Travis County zip codes with the highest rates of overdose deaths were 78741 (31), 78745 (21), 78704 (19), 78758 (19), and 78753 (18).

Preventable overdose deaths are now ranked number one for accidental deaths in our county.

What the Public Health Crisis Declaration means for Travis County

On May 24, 2022, the Travis County commissioners declared a public health crisis. $350,000 has been appropriated from the county budget to expand crucial harm reduction measures. These include additional training for outreach staff and increasing access to naloxone.

Additional plans include implementing safe disposal processes for syringes, an important measure for all overall community safety.

Important next steps

While the attention and financial allocation are certainly a step in the right direction, there are more lifesaving measures that need to be taken.

According to a KXAN article, “Commissioners directed staff and stakeholder groups to come back with updates every month. They also directed Travis County intergovernmental affairs to show support for the legalization and access to fentanyl testing strips and expansion of Good Samaritan laws.”

As it stands now, Texas is one of only three states that does not have Good Samaritan Laws for overdose in place. Further, lifesaving tools such as fentanyl testing strips are currently illegal as they are considered drug paraphernalia.

Support if you need it

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a substance use disorder, support is available. Substance Use Therapy offers a wide range of counseling services to support anyone whose life has been impacted by drugs and alcohol.

If you need other types of support, please visit our Safety-First page.

Whatever you are facing, you don’t have to face it alone.


About the Author:

Kimberly May, LPC-S, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, gambling, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation. *Note: telephone and telehealth sessions are currently available.

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