4 dead, more than 50 suspected drug overdoses in 'outbreak' in Texas: Officials

ByMary Kekatos ABCNews logo
Wednesday, May 1, 2024
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Officials in Austin, Texas, are investigating an "outbreak" of deadly drug overdoses spreading across the city.

Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services (ATCEMS) and the Austin Police Department (APD) said they received a total of 51 calls for suspected overdoses as of Tuesday afternoon, with four suspected deaths related to the surge, according to local ABC News affiliate KVUE.

APD said overdose patients range in age from 20s to 50s and across racial/ethnic groups, KVUE reported. Those who died from overdoses have not been identified but their ages range from mid-30s to mid-50s.

The surge of calls began around 9:00 a.m. CT Monday morning and were concentrated in the downtown area, Angela Carr, EMS division chief at ATCEMS, said during a Monday evening press conference. Calls later began coming in from around the city, including residences, businesses and in areas accessible to the general public.

Carr said a team was immediately deployed to the area, and Narcan rescue kits were distributed. Narcan is given as a nasal spray and the active ingredient in the medication -- naloxone -- can quickly restore breathing if someone is experiencing an opioid overdose.

ATCEMS said it usually receives two or three overdose calls per day, but the number of calls on Monday equated to a 1,000% increase in call volume, according to Dr. Heidi Abraham, deputy medical director for ATCEMS.

"The trend that we're seeing in this group of overdoses is that it is unusually deadly," she said during the press conference. "We've not experienced overdoses of this volume in several years."

Abraham said the overdose patients reported using several different types of drugs but did not elaborate on the specific drugs.

Christa Steadman, ATCEMS public information officer, said officials suspect the "outbreak" is due to "a new batch in town" likely from the same source or same couple of sources due to the similarities of symptoms among patients.

Officials said they will continue to provide updates as they become available.

It comes as a record number of Americans have died from drug overdoses. In 2022, there were nearly 108,000 drug overdose deaths, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1% higher than the nearly 107,000 overdose deaths recorded in 2021.

In Texas, drug poisoning-related deaths for 2022 sit at 15.4 per 100,000, which is the highest rate since at least 2011, according to provisional data from the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS).

Travis County had the fifth-highest number of provisional drug overdose deaths with 308 in 2022, mostly among white residents.

States have previously said fentanyl, the synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, may be driving an increase in overdoses and overdose deaths.

TDSHS says preliminary data shows Travis County had 188 fentanyl poisoning-related deaths, the second-highest number behind Harris County, where Houston is located.