Austin/ Health & Lifestyle
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Published on May 23, 2024
Travis County Drug Overdoses Remain Leading Cause of Accidental Death, Fentanyl Crisis IntensifiesSource: United States Drug Enforcement Administration

Travis County has been hit hard by the drug epidemic yet again, with drug overdoses claiming the title of the leading cause of accidental death for the third consecutive year. According to the 2023 Medical Examiner Report, shared exclusively with KXAN, 486 people succumbed to overdoses last year, marking an increase from the 417 deaths reported the previous year. Fentanyl played a significant role, contributing to 279 fatalities.

The report also pointed out a disturbing trend with over half of the overdose deaths being fentanyl-related. A second source, KVUE, highlighted that drug overdoses accounted for 57% of all accidental deaths, with a notable number involving combinations of fentanyl and methamphetamine. Despite the grim statistics, Travis County officials have noted a slower increase in fentanyl-related deaths compared to previous years, marking the first time this decline in pace has been observed in four years.

County Judge Andy Brown spoke to the urgency of the situation, calling for enhanced data collection on non-fatal overdoses to inform public health efforts. "I think once we get that data up and running we will see the ratio between overdoses that did not result in death and deaths from overdose. And I think that will really inform our public health work, whether it’s working or not," Brown told KXAN.

Victims' families are demanding more action. Advocacy group Texas Against Fentanyl, backed by parents like Carilu Bell and Stefanie Turner who lost their sons to the drug, is pushing for a stronger response. "This is the greatest threat on our nation, yet it’s just not understood, it’s not talked about. We need to magnify this message, magnify this voice and move faster. We need to have a COVID-like response," Turner, the group's president asserted in a statement obtained by KXAN.

On a slightly brighter note, there was a drop in traffic-related fatalities in 2023 within Travis County. KVUE reported 198 deaths from motor-vehicle incidents, with alcohol playing a role in 27% of those cases, a decline from the year before. Homicides also saw a decrease. However, firearms remained a consistent factor, playing a part in 82% of homicides over the last two years.

With the opioid crisis gripping Travis County, officials continue to strive for better education, resources, and legislative changes like legalizing fentanyl test strips to combat these troubling trends. Texas Against Fentanyl is set to host a town hall on substance abuse and mental health on May 28, aiming to bring more light to an issue that has far-reaching and deadly consequences.