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"It's never been this bad," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who's held public office in San Antonio for nearly 50 years.
In response to this uptick, the federal government has granted Bexar County just over $3 million to fuel a 4-year program to train and arm the community with a vital tool to combat this growing overdose rate: Naloxone.
When people take opioids (a vast category of drugs that includes everything from heroin to oxycodone and morphine), the drug attaches itself to certain receptors in a person's brain, causing a dopey high. If too many opioids stick to these receptors, a person will stop breathing, prompting an opioid overdose.
Naloxone, which can be either injected or inhaled, acts as an instant detox for someone experiencing an overdose by kicking the opioids off the receptors for 30 to 90 minutes — enough time to rush someone to the emergency room.
Some critics believe the drug simply enables abusers to continue using opioids, but the majority of public health experts disagree. Director of Metro Health Colleen Bridger said that for an opioid addict, a dose of naloxone is an "absolutely horrible feeling" since it jolts their body into immediate withdrawal. "It’s not something they look forward to or anticipate with glee," Bridger told the Current in August.
According to data shared Tuesday by Mark Kinzly, cofounder of the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative, the drug has saved at least 700 lives in Texas since 2013.
The county's tagged $21,000 of the grant funding to purchase naloxone, a drug that's become increasingly expensive in the past years. The drug, often sold under the brand name Narcan or Evzio, currently costs between $50 to $100 over-the-counter at Texas pharmacies.
In San Antonio, only those working for the San Antonio Fire Department (which oversees the city's Emergency Medical Services) are officially trained to administer naloxone, and carry the drug on them at all times. The new federal dollars will help get some 900 law enforcement officials and medical staff across Bexar County armed with naloxone and comfortable using it within the first year. By 2020, the county plans on expanding naloxone administration training to the general public, reaching out to people who live and work in areas with high overdose rates, teachers, and friends of people addicted to opioids. The funds will also allow the county to hire four hospital-based counselors to meet with overdose survivors and suggest treatment options.
The grant announcement comes just weeks after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion officially allowing state law enforcement to carry naloxone.