After unexplained dip, drug-related deaths in Travis County increased 20% in 2018

Drug-related deaths increased 20% year over year in Travis County, according to the Travis County Medical Examiner's 2018 annual report.

Drug-related deaths increased 20% year over year in Travis County, according to the Travis County Medical Examiner's 2018 annual report.

Drug-related deaths in Travis County increased 20% year over year, from 188 in 2017 to 226 in 2018, according to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s 2018 annual report.

This follows what Chief Medical Examiner Keith Pinckard called a “small but measurable decrease in drug-related deaths” in 2017 at a May 23 Travis County Commissioners Court meeting. Pinckard said his staff is “not sure why” the dip occurred but that it also occurred in other counties around the state.

Drug-related deaths increased 14% from 2016 to 2018, according to the same report.

Drug-related deaths in surrounding counties that rely on the TCME for autopsy services increased 76% during the same period. The TCME has contracts with 43 counties, most of which are in Central and Southeast Texas.

While drug-related deaths are on the rise locally, they are not at the crisis level seen elsewhere.

“We certainly have not experienced the tremendous increase in opioid deaths that other regions in the country have seen, for example the northeast [and] the midwest,” Pinckard said.

The majority of drug-related deaths—165—involved illicit drugs, which are illegal to make, sell or use.

Heroin was the most fatal, cited in 73 cases in 2018, up 74% from 42 cases in 2017. It was followed by methamphetamine, cited in 67 cases, up 49% from 45 cases in 2017, and cocaine, cited in 66 cases, up 65% from 40 cases in 2017.

Prescription drugs were cited in 54 cases in 2018, down from 60 cases the year before.

The prescription drugs cited in drug-related deaths include alprazolam, a benzodiazepine commonly marketed as Xanax that is used to treat anxiety, and a variety of narcotics, including hydrocodone, methadone and oxycodone.

While most prescription drugs cited saw fewer fatalities in 2018 than in 2017, alprazolam was a notable outlier. The drug was cited in 37 cases in 2018, up 37% from 27 cases the year before.

While men were significantly more likely to die of drug-related causes, accounting for 179—or 79%—of deaths in 2018, drug-related deaths cut across every age group and race.

The following graphic breaks down by race drug-related deaths in Travis County in 2018, the county's population in 2018 and state jail felonies, which include nonviolent drug charges, in the county in 2017. The data comes from the TCME’s 2018 annual report, the U.S. Census Bureau and the county’s jail population booking database.



“Those [drug-related death] numbers, compared to our criminological numbers, are so different as to call into question what the heck is happening,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said, pointing out the racial disparity in arrests and sentences for drug-related charges.

 
By Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.


MOST RECENT

The Office of Police Oversight released its first comprehensive report detailing its operations though 2019 and 2020 this June. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Office of Police Oversight report finds complaints against Austin police officers went up, but discipline fell in 2020

The new report centers on the office's three main functions, including tracking APD officer discipline, reviewing the city's police policies, and engaging with Austin residents.

Dreamland adding a disc golf course to its Dripping Springs outdoor entertainment and arts offerings in June. (Courtesy Dreamland)
Dripping Springs and Driftwood business news: Dreamland gets disc golf, new dog grooming business gets closer to opening and more

The new disc golf course at the outdoor entertainment venue sits on 42 acres and is free to play through June.

Volunteers of Austin Vaccine Angels gathered after becoming fully vaccinated. (Courtesy Jodi Holzband)
Grassroots groups aimed at vaccine outreach look toward the future

For the past five months, grassroots volunteer groups have been working to connect thousands of Central Texans to COVID-19 vaccines.

Photo of a woman and girl walking the trail with the Austin skyline behind them
Travis County commits to electrify fleet, doubles down on climate goals

Commissioners directed staff this week to develop a plan to fully electrify Travis County's fleet of vehicles, a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions for the county.

The Bloomhouse—an 1,100-square-foot home in the hills of West Austin—was built in the 1970s by University of Texas architecture students for fellow student Dalton Bloom. It was featured in the Austin Weird Homes Tour of 2020. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Weird Homes Tour ends; Z’Tejas to close Arboretum restaurant and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Project Connect's proposed Orange Line will run from Tech Ridge, through downtown Austin and to Slaughter Lane. (Rendering courtesy Project Connect)
Project Connect Orange Line design reveals proposed locations for rail stations in North, South Austin

The latest Orange Line design shows potential elevated rail line over I-35, as well as options for the Drag.

Photo of a weird home
Austin's Weird Homes Tour says goodbye—for now

The tour's founders say they are open to a new local operator taking over the event.

The former hotel off I-35 had most recently been used as a COVID-19 homeless Protection Lodge. (Courtesy City of Austin)
East Cesar Chavez encampment residents move into former South Austin hotel

Through Austin's HEAL initiative, residents of an encampment near East Austin's Terrazas Branch Libarary were relocated to a South Austin shelter before that camp is cleared away.

The regional blood bank appealed for further donations in the wake of the June 12 shooting in downtown Austin. (Courtesy We Are Blood)
We Are Blood appeals for blood donations following weekend shooting in downtown Austin

The Central Texas nonprofit also said its blood supply remains depleted due to decreased donations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of a man holding robotic equipment
Tesla teams up with Austin Community College for manufacturing training and hiring program

The Tesla START program will hire and train ACC students to work with robotics and other advanced manufacturing equipment.

Austin City Council's Housing and Planning Committee met virtually June 15. (Screenshot via City of Austin)
Austin City Council members, city Realtors talk housing market increases and affordability

The median sale price of Austin homes surged past $500,000 through the first five months of 2021.

Izzy  is one of the 20 dogs in need of an emergency foster home. (Courtesy Austin Pets Alive)
Austin Pets Alive seeks emergency foster homes for dogs recovering from distemper

The Bastrop County Animal Shelter and Austin Pets Alive are seeking homes within the next 48 hours for 20 dogs facing euthanasia.