close
close

Voice News

CA News 2024

searchengine

Austin, Texas, opioid outbreak leaves at least 9 deaths and 75 overdoses in 3 days

(The Center Square) – In recent days, city and county officials have responded to what appears to be “the largest outbreak of opioid overdoses” in Austin and Travis County, Travis County Judge Andy Brown said at a news conference.

Eric Fitzgerald, assistant chief of the Austin Police Department, said police officers and first responders have reduced an untold number of deaths, saying, “There is a deadly batch of illegal narcotics in our community. Our intention (…) is to find those responsible and hold them accountable.”

Lt. Patrick Eastlick of the APD Narcotics Unit said two persons of interest were arrested and one was arrested for felony possession of a firearm. The origin of the drugs is being investigated. “Anyone found responsible for distributing the suspected fentanyl faces possible charges of murder or fabricated delivery of a controlled substance causing death or serious bodily injury,” he said.

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that Governor Greg Abbott signed into law that changed state law to classify fentanyl poisoning as a homicide, require death certificates to list the cause of death associated with fentanyl poisonings, and ban the distribution of Narcan expand, among other measures.

To date, APD has filed five charges in connection with fentanyl overdose deaths, Eastlick said.

Austin-Travis County EMS Assistant Chief Steve White said emergency personnel initially responded to calls downtown Monday morning, which later spread throughout the city. Emergency teams were deployed to quickly distribute Narcan rescue kits.

Within a 24-hour period, they responded to more than 51 suspected overdoses, with many people going into cardiac arrest. For the first time, four people were reported dead.

“We haven’t experienced overdoses of this volume since 2015 when K2 hit our community,” White said, referring to synthetic marijuana. EMS normally receives an average of two to three calls per day, but responded to more than 50 calls after the outbreak began, “an increase of well over a thousand percent.”

In a separate press release, Dr. Angela Carr of Travis County EMS Thursday at 6 p.m. that Austin Travis County EMS had responded to 75 suspected overdoses. To date, more than 400 doses of Narcan have been distributed to the affected areas.

Brown said they had to wait until toxicology reports were ready, but were investigating “eight deaths as suspicious.”

According to a spokesperson for the province, the current death toll is nine. “Preliminary toxicology reports indicated the presence of fentanyl in nine cases, cocaine in eight and methamphetamine in three cases, the American-Statesman reported.

Brown said first responders have saved dozens of lives by administering Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses if administered quickly enough. Information about where Texans can obtain Narcan can be found here and at Txcope.org.

“Drug overdose deaths remain the leading cause of non-accidental deaths in Travis County,” Brown said. In 2022, Travis County commissioners declared the county’s overdose epidemic a public health crisis.

In March, White spoke at an Austin City Council meeting about public safety, saying, “Travis County now has twice as many opioid overdose deaths as any other county in Texas, per capita.” He explained the extent of the “severe increase” in opioid overdoses, saying it averaged about 100 per month at the time.

Last year, while the Legislature was in session, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers in Austin seized half a million lethal doses of fentanyl, The Center Square reported. They also seized other narcotics, weapons, ammunition and several stolen vehicles in a bust that was part of a DPS Austin Violent Crimes Task Force operation in support of the APD.

Violent crime and fentanyl overdoses have increased in the capital since the Austin City Council voted to defund the APD in 2020. Attempts by voters to increase APD funding and reverse the City Council’s actions failed in 2021. After losing a significant portion of APD forces, Austin’s homicide rate soared, APD was no longer able to respond quickly to 911 calls, street takeovers spiraled out of control, a wave of machete crime ensued among other reported violent crimes.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINATOR

In response, Governor Abbott took action by creating task forces and committing additional resources, including directing DPS troopers to provide long-term assistance to APD. He also worked with the Texas Legislature to implement measures to prevent municipalities from defunding police in the future, The Center Square reported.

“Overdose deaths are completely preventable and everyone in Travis County should be aware of and prepared to respond to an overdose incident,” Brown said. “Everyone should carry Narcan and know how to respond to an overdose. I have a dose of it in my computer bag.”