Travis County leaders team up with bar owners to curb fentanyl deaths

As fentanyl-related deaths climb in Travis County, county leaders on Monday announced they will partner with Austin nonprofits to equip about a dozen bars with a nasal spray that reduces the effects of an opioid overdose and provide the training required to use it.

"No one wants their house to catch on fire," said Phil Owen, a program manager with the Austin-based counseling group Communities for Recovery, who lost his son to a fentanyl overdose. "But if you do, you certainly want to have a fire extinguisher." Oxycodone Test Strip

Travis County leaders team up with bar owners to curb fentanyl deaths

Additionally, the Travis County Commissioners Court is expected on Tuesday to approve a $175,000 contract award to Communities for Recovery to hold weekly support groups for people recovering from drug addiction and to conduct outreach for its services in Travis County, said County Judge Andy Brown.

In October, Travis County and the city of Austin declared a public health crisis over the rise in drug overdose deaths they were witnessing. Travis County saw overdose deaths double in the first six months of 2022 compared with 2021, and more of those deaths were linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

In the first half of the year, 113 people in Travis County died of fentanyl overdoses, and 199 people died of all overdoses. Last year in Travis County, a total of 118 people died from fentanyl.

"It looks like we're on a really horrible track," Brown said Monday.

Travis County is partnering with FBR Management, which manages several Austin-area bars, to distribute two doses each of Narcan, the brand name of naloxone. The medicine, in the form of a nasal spray given to 13 bars in the area, will reduce the effects of an opioid overdose. The county is also partnering with the nonprofit Safe Haven, which will teach the bartenders how to recognize an opioid overdose and how to use the spray.

The medicine can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose. The spray has no effect on those who do not have opioids in their system, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"We're more than happy to help," said Max Moreland, operations director with FBR. "But we also hope that today we can expand that knowledge and this information to more than just within our industry. ... In a perfect world, we'll never have to use this, but we'd like to be prepared."

The bars involved include Lavaca Street Bar, Dive Bar, Dumont's Down Low, Gibson Street Bar, Lala's Little Nugget, Mean Eyed Cat, Stagger Lee, Star Bar, the Wheel and Field House.

Bartenders are just a fraction of those equipped with Narcan in Travis County. Austin-Travis County EMS medics and Austin police have it, and the Austin school district received about 200 kits of Narcan in October from Austin Public Health. Earlier this year, Austin Public Health secured 9,900 doses and provided them to the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, which distributed the doses for free to opioid users.

"This whole process is made more difficult by a state law that says that we as a county cannot pay an entity to distribute Narcan or naloxone, which makes no sense to me," Brown said. "Our hope is that the law will also change. ... It's just another roadblock that our, frankly, behind-the-times state statutes are throwing up. We're trying to figure out ways around that."

Additionally, Brown said he supports a bill that state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, filed this month to legalize fentanyl testing strips in the state. They are classified as drug paraphernalia, so it is illegal to possess or distribute them.

To use the strips, testers can dissolve a small amount of drug residue in water, then dip the test strip into the liquid to determine whether fentanyl is present.

Travis County leaders team up with bar owners to curb fentanyl deaths

lipid panel Monitoring System "That will help save lives," Brown said. "Whatever you think about using drugs or not using drugs, I don't think anyone thinks drug use should be a death sentence. That's what we're talking about here is saving lives in our community and making it possible for people to save their own lives."