Harris County officials announce new $2M program to combat opioid overdoses

HOUSTON – Harris County health officials announced a new program to help combat opioid overdoses in the county Tuesday morning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded the Harris County Public Health Department a $2 million grant to combat opioid overdoses in the county. The department is partnering with the Harris County Sheriff's Office and Baylor College of Medicine to help combat the problem.

"According to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, in 2018, almost half of all drug overdose deaths in Harris County involved opioids, and drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the county," officials wrote in a press release.

Dr. Umair Shah, the executive director of Harris County Public Health, said the department is the only one in Texas to have received a grant to combat opioid overdoses.

While the number of people addicted to opiates and overdose deaths in Harris County is less than the national average, Shah said the new program will focus on preventing the problem from getting out of control.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his team was often "on the front lines" while dealing with addiction both on the streets and in the Harris County Jail.

"Incarceration is not our only tool and only answer," he said. "Intervention, prevention work. It's much more effective to seek those paths rather than bring those folks into the criminal justice system."

Last week, HCSO deputies also distributed the opioid overdose reversal drug, Narcan, to some of the city's homeless population. Gonzalez also said there is a program in place to provide Narcan to people as they are released from Harris County Jail to prevent an overdose once they are out.

The new program will focus on three main strategies:

  • Increasing data collection and analysis to properly drive prevention activities
  • Get people addicted to opioids into treatment programs
  • Collaborate with multiple agencies to ensure a well-rounded approach to the problem