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

Representatives of the Joint Opioid Task Force gave a one-year progress report to City Council on Wednesday, highlighting headway made in allowing more doctors to treat addicts and training first responders to use overdose-reversal medications.

When the task force was established in August 2017, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg tasked the County-City group with reducing the number of opioid-related deaths locally. San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Director Colleen Bridger said San Antonio’s efforts to address the epidemic are gaining notice.

“The state is watching what we are doing and they are replicating [our initiatives] and growing [them] across the state,” Bridger said.

The Joint Opioid Task Force comprises more than 30 people representing public health, medicine, mental health and substance abuse treatment and prevention providers, researchers, first responders, policy makers, public school districts, and social service agencies.

To increase the number of physicians eligible to prescribe or dispense overdose reversal drugs, the Joint Opioid Task Force plans to launch a website intended to guide physicians through the process of obtaining the waiver that allows them to treat opioid dependency with approved overdose-reversal medications. A physician must complete training to prescribe and dispense the medication.

“There weren’t a lot of physicians waivered, so we worked with UT Health San Antonio to develop this website to get more people trained,” said Bridger said.

The task force also has helped establish a new 20-person opioid recovery residence, providing safe, sober housing where women can live with their children while receiving addiction treatment. The home will be located in Midtown.

The City will partner with Crosspoint Inc., which manages residential facilities for people with emotional and psychological problems, and the Department of State Health Services to fund the rehabilitation house for pregnant women and mothers, with supportive services provided by the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing, said Lisa Cleveland, a task force member and UT Health San Antonio associate professor. “It’s an excellent opportunity for our nursing students to be involved and be given access to this population,” she said.

Crosspoint Inc. CEO Kevin Downey told the Rivard Report that the program will help fill a gap in services for indigent opioid-addicted women in the early stages of recovery who need a place to stay with their children.

“This is the first time since 1963 that we have had a program or facility that also served children,” Downey said, noting that some evidence shows that children can play a positive role in recovery for drug-addicted parents. “This is a big deal for us, and there is a waiting list of people already who meet the criteria to be eligible for the program.”

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. The task force also trained other people, including family members of those struggling with addiction, distributing more than 25,000 doses of the drug throughout the community.

“To expand access, what we first looked at is where EMS is being called, where the highest use is happening, and used that information to target” communities and organizations that would benefit from the training, Bridger said.

The UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing holds an opioid overdose training program.
The UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing holds an opioid overdose training program in May 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bridger said the opioid task force will continue to focus on reducing opioid-related deaths and increasing services that focus on safely disposing medications and used syringes. It also will work with the Texas House Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse to bring in money to combat the issue locally.

“So far we have received $11 million in outside grant funds” to enhance services locally, Bridger said. “We are already starting to make a dent in this problem.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

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