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Councilmember Castillo wants to use San Antonio’s opioid settlement funds to make Narcan more available

San Antonio City Hall
Joey Palacios
San Antonio City Hall

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A new San Antonio policy request called for using the city’s opioid settlement funds to expand local harm reduction programs and drug addiction education efforts.

District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo filed a council consideration request last week asking the city to adopt a resolution designating opioid-related overdoses as a public health crisis.

It also called for establishing a budget plan with harm reduction strategies using opioid settlement funds; increasing community availability and training of Narcan, the nasal spray form of naloxone used to reverse an opioid overdose; and developing and funding city-sponsored programs for pregnant people and mothers experiencing opioid addiction.

“Ensuring that there's an established plan with all of these moving pieces is what we're looking to establish at a local level,” Castillo said.

Bexar County officials reported approximately 246 overdose deaths in 2021. The same year, the Texas attorney general’s office secured approximately $4.4 million in opioid settlement funds for the City of San Antonio, which will be paid over the next 15-20 years. The money must be used for preventative education and harm reduction efforts.

In March, Bexar County commissioners approved a policy for how to use its $14.4 million in opioid settlement money. It includes funding for prevention, training, outreach and intervention and recovery programs.

Local programs that provide organizations with Narcan already exist. The UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing, for example, administers the state-funded Texas Targeted Opioid Response grant.

Part of the grant is the free distribution and training of Narcan administration to organizations and individuals across the state. The cost of Narcan from a pharmacy is around $50 for a kit with two doses.

Castillo’s policy request targets smaller community-based non-profits. An organization in Texas must have a standing order to distribute naloxone. Under Texas law, once a standing order is established, employees can distribute and administer naloxone to people who want or need it.

Many nonprofits and community members do not know how to navigate or establish a standing order, Castillo explained.

“What we're hearing from community workers interacting with individuals that are struggling with addiction is that access to Narcan,” Castillo said. “While there are great partners, oftentimes it's not as accessible to get that drop of Narcan for them to connect community members to. So this expands access beyond the mobile integrated health unit, beyond the handful of organizations doing the work.”

The policy request also seeks to support pregnant people and mothers experiencing opioid addiction. Bexar County has the highest number of prenatal drug exposure cases in the state.

“What we're looking to do is expand services to provide mothers with the education and resources necessary to essentially move away from opioid use and to be in the know of what resources are available to them,” Castillo said.

The policy request received supporting signatures from Councilmembers Viagran, Rocha-Garcia, Cabello Havrda and Pelaez. Castillo said there are a lot of moving parts to the request, and that the first step is developing an effective plan.

“We need to establish this plan on how to move forward and use our resources appropriately to ensure that we're making the most impact and alleviating what our community members are struggling with,” Castillo said.

The policy request now awaits consideration by the City Council Governance Committee. The council is currently on recess and will reconvene in August.

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Sarah Hernandez is a health reporting intern for Texas Public Radio in collaboration with Texas Community Health News. Sarah grew up in San Antonio, Texas. She graduated from Texas State University in May with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Latino Studies. She spent three years working for The University Star, Texas State’s student-run newspaper, in roles such as life and arts reporter, life and arts editor and, most recently, managing editor.