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Austin Is Partnering With The State To Get Treatment To People Who Overdose On Opioids

An EMS truck in front of a hospital.
Spencer Selvidge for KUT

Emergency medical providers in Austin are working with state health officials to expand treatment services for people who overdose on opioids.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced this week that it is launching a pilot program with Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services to “help opioid overdose survivors quickly get treatment and services to support long-term recovery.”

Local emergency service providers are getting about $500,000 for the program, which comes from a federal grant given to the state as part of a Trump administration effort to combat opioid-related deaths in the U.S.

Austin currently has one of the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in Texas, according to state officials.

Trina Ita, the associate commissioner for behavioral health services for Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said this pilot program expands what emergency service providers can do after they save someone from overdosing.

“How this is different is that EMS can still go back and check in on these individuals and do follow-ups and see how they are doing,” Ita said, “[and] try to connect them with a recovery specialist to provide that peer support and get them connected to long-term treatment.”

That includes medication-assisted treatment, she said. Using certain prescribed medications to change the brain chemistry of someone with an addiction has been shown to be the most effective method of treating an addiction, as well as preventing future overdoses.

EMS officials in Travis County say they started a similar program about 18 months ago.

Blake Hardy, the commander of the community health paramedic team for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, said the funding from the state “adds sustainability” to what local officials have already been doing.

“We see opioid overdoses almost daily, if not several times a day throughout the county,” he said.

Hardy said pilot program funding also allows Austin-Travis County EMS to expand services. He said that means contracting people to do the peer counseling and coaching, as well as help pay for the overdose reversal kits used out in the field.

“It [also] allows us to bring in some more medications that would have been difficult to fund otherwise,” Hardy said.

Similar programs have been launched by the state in Bexar and Harris counties – as well as Williamson County.

According to state health officials, Williamson County’s program has “connected 94 patients to medical care, intensive case management, and peer recovery services” since April 2018.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.