A new report from the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office shows drug-related deaths have increased dramatically and were the leading cause of accidental deaths in 2021.

The report shows 308 people died from overdosing in Travis County in 2021, up more than 50 deaths from 2020. Of those deaths, 118 were related to fentanyl, a 237% increase from 2020 to 2021.

“My question to policymakers is: When is enough, enough?” said Nova Skye, outreach coordinator for the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, at a May 3 town hall on drug-related deaths. “How many people need to die?”

At a presentation to Travis County Commissioners earlier this year, Public Health Authority Desmar Walkes said fentanyl-laced pills are one of the biggest contributing factors to the increase in drug-related overdoses.

“Drug overdoses are a crisis in our community, and fentanyl is exacerbating the problem,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said in a statement. “As a County, we are responsible for the health and safety of all its residents—especially the most vulnerable among us. We will do all we can to address this crisis and call on other leaders to do the same. Texas should legalize fentanyl test strips; naloxone should be available throughout the community; and recovery programs should be fully funded to eliminate wait lists.”

On May 10, Travis County commissioners approved a $50,000 contract to fund methadone, a substitute drug that acts as a treatment for drug addiction. Commissioner Ann Howard pushed the court to consider doubling the money.

“People who need our help right now asked us to increase funding for this treatment,” Howard said.

She said she would be open to doubling the county’s entire investment in methadone treatment.

The court did not move forward with additional funding because of how the agenda was written and other procedures that would need to be followed before the expenditure could be possible.

However, Brown said Central Health, the county’s health district, was exploring plans to make methadone more easily and readily accessible.

In his statement, Brown said he is exploring declaring this a public health crisis and has requested funding for naloxone, a life-saving drug that can be used on someone when they start to overdose, in the fiscal year 2022-23 budget.

Advocates have been pushing leaders to seek the public health crisis designation in an attempt to find extra funding and raise community awareness.