Concerns grow as Austin-area fentanyl deaths rise
Janel Rodriguez, whose son Noah, a 15 year-old student at Johnson High School in Buda, died last year from a fentanyl overdose, tells Axios. Mounting Central Texas fentanyl overdose deaths have left parents, school administrators and public officials desperate to raise alarms.
Driving the news: At least four Hays CISD students have died from fentanyl poisoning since last summer — and there was a suspected fifth student overdose this month.
- Travis County saw 118 fentanyl deaths in the first six months of 2022 — the same number as all of 2021.
- Data has not yet been released for the second half of 2022.
Details: Fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic opioid that the CDC says is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, is among the most common contributors to overdose deaths in the U.S. — and is a growing threat to teenagers.
Zoom in: From Cedar Park to Kyle, the deaths have crushed families, leaving some of them aching for ways to prevent further fatalities.
What they're saying: "I feel like people don't realize how serious the issue is — they feel like it won't happen to their kids," Janel Rodriguez, whose 15-year-old son Noah died last year from a fentanyl overdose, tells Axios.
- Through her Forever 15 Project, which aims to broadcast the tell-tale signs of drug addiction and provide resources for those at risk or those who know someone at risk, Rodriguez booked a billboard between Kyle and Buda along I-35 that features photos of her son and two other boys who died from fentanyl overdoses. "Fentanyl steals your friends," the billboard says.
- Austin-based billboard company MediaChoice has donated space to the group on seven other billboards around the state to get the message out.
- "In my own grief, it's helped me, in my healing process," said Rodriguez, who has kept her 7-to-4 job as a routing manager for a pest control company.
Zoom out: Travis County officials are now providing bars and bartenders with the overdose-reversing drug Narcan and are stepping up funding for addiction recovery programs.
- Austin ISD also distributed Narcan doses to every district school in the fall.
- Letters sent home to parents from the Round Rock school district included warnings about how vaping equipment is being repurposed to deliver fentanyl.
- "The fragrant vape juices make these dangerous and highly-addictive drugs difficult to detect and can expose unknowing students to harmful and potentially deadly substances," says the Jan. 10 letter.
By the numbers: The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized over 379 million doses of potentially deadly fentanyl in 2022.
What's next: With the U.S.-Mexico border a major entry point for fentanyl, Gov. Greg Abbott has called for beefing up border security — and looks to continue making the connection during this years' legislative session.
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