Austin police warn against buying illegal drugs after deadly overdoses before SXSW – Austin American-Statesman

As we head deeper into the long-anticipated South by Southwest festivals and spring break, Austin police are warning the public against buying illegal drugs after seeing a recent spike in overdoses
Local authorities are investigating a string of overdoses they think are tied to opioid use, particularly fentanyl, that left two people dead and 10 others hospitalized earlier this month.  
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate with effects similar to heroin‘s but much more powerful. It can be found as a pill, powder, patch, solid or liquid, and it can be extremely lethal in small doses, authorities said.
Within seven hours on March 4, Austin police responded to seven calls involving overdoses downtown, Austin-Travis County EMS Capt. Darren Noak said.
The first call was reported just after midnight at Seventh and Sabine Streets, where one person was found dead and another person was taken to the hospital.
A second, bigger call was reported shortly after at Fifth and Trinity Street, where eight people had overdosed, resulting in one death and six hospitalizations. One person left the scene and did not receive medical attention.  
Opinion:Opioid overdose deaths are accelerating. Policing isn’t the answer.
The last call came in about 6:19 a.m. that involved two patients, one of whom went into cardiac arrest and was revived by medics. Both were taken to the hospital.  
In late February, police responded to overdose calls for two juveniles who they think were using opioids.  
Police Sgt. Tracy Gerrish, who works in the homicide unit, said that, while the investigations are ongoing, preliminary evidence shows all those incidents involved fentanyl.  
“While the investigations are underway — we are still working to confirm what drug was used in that overdose — we know the use of fentanyl has been on the rise nationwide and we know that fentanyl is responsible for a large number of overdoses over the last few years,” said Assistant Police Chief Jerry Bauzon, who oversees the investigations bureau.  
Read:Lawmakers take aim at state’s opioid crisis
Austin police reported 133 drug overdoses in 2019, 162 in 2020 and more than 170 in 2021. At least 30 overdoses have been reported this year. About 25% of overdoses involve people experiencing homelessness, including the two who died this month, but police said the problem reaches across all age, race and economic groups.  
“It’s not a secret that a lot of fentanyl is coming from across the border,” Gerrish said. “And we know it’s used as a cheap way to make pills.” 
With SXSW underway and drawing more people this weekend, Austin police will flood downtown with narcotics and undercover officers to help prevent the use and sale of illegal drugs, especially fentanyl.
Dedicated ambulances and response teams will also be in place to handle any calls from the SXSW.
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Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Daniel C. Comeaux, whose Houston office also covers Austin, said counterfeit pills are spreading into the community, and he warned Austin residents and visitors about taking medication from friends or others.  
“If you have a headache, get medication from CVS or Walmart or another pharmacy,” Comeaux said, “and if you buy drugs or get pills from a friend, don’t assume they got it from a pharmacy; we are seeing overdoses in those cases, too. So, make sure you buy it from a pharmacy.”  
In the meantime, Austin police and the DEA are working together to tackle the issue.  
‘We are not immune’:How the opioid crisis is hitting Central Texas
More than 100,000 overdose deaths were reported nationwide last year, authorities said. That’s nearly equivalent to the number of people it takes to fill Royal-Memorial Stadium — and with fentanyl, Comeaux said, just a tiny dose can kill someone.  
All Austin police officers are equipped with Narcan, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. Bauzon said officers have already been successful in administering the medication in the last several weeks. 
“It’s a safe, effective and invaluable way to reinforce our officer’s vital role in keeping our community safe,” Bauzon said. 


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