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New public safety investments allow us to address substance use disorder with services, prevent overdose deaths and reduce incarceration and hospitalizations. In Austin, hundreds of people are hospitalized each year due to drug overdose. More people die by accidental overdose than by traffic fatality. Many of these overdose deaths are preventable.
Our punitive approach to drug use only increases the risk of overdose; the drug war doesn’t reduce substance use disorder, but rather causes further harm. The status quo results in thousands of small time drug arrests, which saddle users with a felony charge that only makes a path to recovery even more difficult.
Community Health Paramedics Prevent Drug Overdose
Instead, Austin will now be able to send a special team of Emergency Medical Technicians to meet with users in the field and introduce them to the tools they can use to save lives. This team, called Community Health Paramedics (CHPs), help resolve medical problems associated with drug use before they turn into emergencies requiring a hospital admission. And CHPs distribute and teach people how to use Narcan, a medicine that will prevent an opioid overdose if administered in a timely fashion. The new Austin budget added a total of 67 new EMS responders to the public safety system, 14 of them these CHPs who are able to begin the healing. The budget also funded an expanded overdose prevention center where the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance will provide harm reduction services, including a connection to treatment for those who are ready.