County Reports on Drug Use and Poverty
New studies and what they mean for Austin
... On Drug Use and Casualties
In a report released last month by Austin Public Health, researchers report an upward trend in both "all drug" overdose deaths in Travis County, and more specifically in deaths from opioid overdose. Although the local rate of prescriptions for opioids (51.2 per 100 persons) remains lower than both the state rate (57.6) and national rate (66.5), APH reports that from 2006 to 2016, 1,398 Travis County residents died due to drug overdoses, an average of 127 each year. Of those deaths, 590 (42.2%) were due to opioid overdoses – 91% unintentional, 7% suicidal.
The report also notes that the rate of overdose deaths among males (6.4/100,000) is twice that of females, and that the opioid overdose death rate among whites (6.8/100,000) is more than twice that of blacks and more than 2.5 times that of Hispanics. For a sense of the ongoing scale, from 2000 through 2017 there were 3,600 calls from Travis County to the Texas Poison Center Network for exposure to opioids – an average of 200 calls each year, 27% involving children (ages 0-19).
Dr. Philip Huang, medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health, said the data merits recommending expanding access "to evidence-based substance abuse treatment, expanding access and use of naloxone (a safe antidote to reverse opioid overdoses), and improving prescription drug monitoring."
... On Poverty
An April report from Travis County Health and Human Services – "Travis County Poverty Brief" – provides an update of last year's "Focus on Poverty in Travis County." Using data derived from the American Community Survey Five-Year Estimates (based on annual community surveys), the report concludes that the county's current poverty rate is 15% – meaning roughly 171,000 people living under 100% of the poverty line: an annual income of $12,486 for one person, or $24,339 for a family of four (two children under 18).
The report also cites the number of people under 200% of the poverty line ($24,972/$48,678), defined as enduring "economic hardship" and as a group eligible for many social service programs. Another 16% (184,851 people) are included in that second group, together reflecting about 32% of Travis County residents in substantial financial difficulty much of the time.
Geographically, poverty is primarily concentrated in the central and eastern areas of Travis County, along the I-35 corridor and east of I-35, whereas the majority of ZIP code tabulation areas on the western side of the county have rates below 32%. A few other details: The county poverty rate is lowest among non-Hispanic whites (9%), highest among Hispanic/Latino residents (24%), 22% among African-Americans. The rate is higher among females (16%) than males (14%); among age groups, the highest rate is among people 18-24 years of age (35%), lowest among those 65 and over (8%). The rate for children under 18 is 21%. The overall poverty rate for the county, for the five-year period 2012-2016, has declined slightly from the previous five-year period.