Austin EMS reports a surge of overdose calls likely tied to a new ‘batch’ of drugs

More than 30 suspected overdoses occurred in Austin on Monday, with four suspected overdose deaths.

By Olivia Aldridge, KUT NewsMay 1, 2024 10:30 am, ,

From KUT News:

Austin-Travis County EMS said it responded to a deluge of overdose-related calls Monday, beginning around 9 a.m. and continuing into Tuesday.

As of Tuesday at noon, ATCEMS representatives said there had been 51 suspected overdoses in that time span. Many of these patients were treated with Narcan, a medication that can reverse the effects of opioids, and transported to local hospitals. Four died after paramedics were unable to revive them.

ATCEMS representatives said that overdose-related calls had seemed to slow.

“Normally we have about two to three calls per day. We’re now in the mid-to-high thirties for today,” Dr. Heidi Abraham, chief deputy medical director for ATCEMS, said Monday evening.

A cluster of calls initially came from downtown Austin, but more calls began coming in from across the city as the day progressed, according to ATCEMS representative Christa Stedman. She said calls came from residents, businesses and public areas, and that overdoses affected people of various ages and demographics. ATCEMS Assistant Chief Steve White confirmed that there had been no pediatric overdoses, and that both housed and unhoused people had been affected.

Stedman said this spate of overdoses was likely tied to a single source or a couple of sources. Although people affected reported using different drugs, she said, their symptoms shared “similar signatures.”

“When we see outbreaks like this, the suspicion is that essentially there’s a new quote-unquote ‘batch’ in town,” Stedman said.

The Austin Police Department’s Organized Crime Division Narcotics Support Unit is investigating the string of overdoses and “working to identify the potential dealer or dealers,” according to a news release.

On Tuesday, APD representatives said two persons of interest had been detained; one was charged with felony possession of a firearm. The investigation is ongoing, but individuals found to be responsible could be charged with murder or manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance causing death or serious bodily injury.

Some of the overdose patients said they believed they were using non-opioid narcotics, per the release, but success reviving patients with Narcan suggests the presence of an opioid such as fentanyl.

“We are seeing opiates like fentanyl being used in almost every counterfeit drug on the market, and it can have devastating effects,” ATCEMS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Escott said in a news release.

Travis County’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Keith Pinckard, said his office was investigating eight “suspicious” sudden deaths thought to be caused by overdoses since early Monday morning. Pinckard said the results of those autopsies should be available in the next few days and may provide more insight into the nature of the overdoses.

While APD investigates, ATCEMS is encouraging the public to avoid non-prescribed drugs and look out for possible overdose symptoms in others, such as shallow or slow breathing, confusion, loss of consciousness, small pupils and skin turning blue or purple.

Authorities also said keeping Narcan on hand could help save lives. White credited APD officers for acting quickly to revive patients with Narcan and the city’s homeless strategy office for helping to distribute hundreds of Narcan kits around downtown.

“If our city and county leadership had not made this a priority, the outcome of yesterday would have been much much worse,” White said. “The number of lives that we would have lost would have been dozens instead of single digits.”

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