Naloxone, the active ingredient in NARCAN® Nasal Spray, reverses the effects of opioid overdose in 2 to 3 minutes.
Naloxone, the active ingredient in NARCAN® Nasal Spray, reverses the effects of opioid overdose in 2 to 3 minutes. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced that Bexar County will receive $1.65 million in grant funding to continue efforts to battle the local opioid epidemic.

The funding includes two separate grants to be distributed evenly over three years.

A $900,000 grant will go toward funding a new full-time County position to address opioid abuse and misuse through developing and implementing a coordinated care plan. It will also be used to enhance residential treatment and prevention programs and fund the work of the Joint Opioid Task Force, whose one-year funding ends Sunday, said TJ Mayes, chief of staff for Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.

The second grant, worth $750,000, will be used to create a women’s mental health court that would work with women with mental health diagnoses and drug addiction, Mayes said.

The County applied for the grant funding in June through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, an arm of the Justice Department that supports local criminal justice programs. Mayes credited the Texas Legislature’s strong bipartisan effort with securing the funding, including continued support from U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).

The funding “represents a major step forward in addressing out local opioid epidemic,” Doggett said in a Thursday statement. “Bexar County leads the state in infants born addicted to opioids. San Antonio also has the third highest per capita rate of overdose deaths. Securing these resources has been a bipartisan effort involving all of our Congressmembers.”

Securing these grant marks a major achievement in the Joint Opioid Task Force’s second year of operation, which begins with the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1., the same day the grants will be distributed.

The task force brings together more than 30 local public health experts, medical and pharmaceutical professionals, first responders, policymakers, public school district representatives, and social services agencies to address the opioid epidemic.

“Substance abuse has a profound impact on our criminal justice system, our hospitals, and our social services agencies,” Wolff said in a Thursday statement. The Bexar County opioid task force is a model for inter-agency collaboration to fight substance abuse in our community.”

On Sept. 20, representatives delivered to City Council a one-year progress report outlining headway made toward the four main objectives of the task force: treatment, prevention, education, and increasing the use of overdose reversal drugs locally.

By the end of September, all San Antonio Police Department officers will have completed training to administer Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and saved 1,869 lives in 2017, according to task force reports. The task force also trained other civilians, including family members of those struggling with addiction, and distributed more than 25,000 doses of the drug throughout the community.

The task force also has helped establish a new 20-person opioid recovery residence, providing safe housing where women can live with their children while receiving addiction treatment. The home is located in Midtown and is set to open in October.

“Receiving the funding is exciting because one of the questions we received from City Council following the one-year report was about how the task force planned to move forward” since it had only received funding for one year, Mayes said. “This funding will carry us through the next three years.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.