May 1, 2024 - News

City sees surge in fentanyl overdoses

Narcan and fentanyl test strips

Narcan and fentanyl test strips are available in vending machines across Austin. Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Austin area medics and police responded to a surge in opioid-related overdoses across the city this week, with at least 51 overdoses and eight suspected overdose fatalities within 27 hours.

Why it matters: Fentanyl deaths across the Austin area have increased in recent years, and Monday's overdose rate was a 1000% increase from the Austin area's daily average.

  • The highly addictive synthetic opioid is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the CDC, and it's among the most common contributors to overdose deaths in the U.S.
  • Preliminary state data last fall showed that Travis County has the highest rate for fentanyl-related deaths in the state.

What they're saying: "We have not experienced overdoses of this volume since 2015," when there was an outbreak from the synthetic marijuana drug K2, according to Steve White, the assistant chief of Austin-Travis County EMS.

  • Officials usually respond to an average of two to three overdoses per day, according to White.

Driving the news: Most of the overdoses were concentrated downtown beginning at 1am Monday, but calls were spread throughout the city by 4am Tuesday, officials said in a news conference.

  • The eight fatalities reported during that period are suspected to be opioid-related deaths, but toxicology testing is still ongoing, according to Keith Pinkard, chief medical examiner for Travis County.
  • Officials have not released the names of the deceased, and some victims have not yet been identified, Pinkard said, adding that the fatalities were reported downtown and in southeast and northern parts of Austin.

Zoom in: Austin Police Lt. Patrick Eastlick said the department's Narcotics Support Unit is investigating the possible source of the deadly batch and detained two individuals this week.

  • "Anyone found responsible for distributing the suspected fentanyl faces potential charges of murder or manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance causing death or serious bodily injury," Eastlick said.

Of note: First responders have worked to distribute hundreds of Narcan kits around downtown for at-risk groups.

Be smart: Overdose symptoms include shallow or slow breathing, confusion, loss of consciousness, change in skin color and small pupils.

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