Channing Neary, a defense attorney in Austin, said she lost three clients recently from drug overdoses.
As one of the most prominent attorneys who specializes in cases dealing with substance use in Texas, Channing said that the people she helps who do not make it leave a huge imprint on her heart.
“My hope is to reach some people and help them change their life,” Channing said. “When I run into a client who is still sober and has been since we have worked together, it keeps me going.”
Channing has been working with clients who have substance use disorders for a decade. More than 80 percent of her clients have cases that are related to substance use.
“And a lot of those people are misusing substances on a regular basis,” she said.
Because of Channing’s work, she has witnessed the overdose epidemic that’s rattled Texas and the United States.
Even though opioid overdose deaths are modestly declining, the CDC reported the synthetic opioid deaths are increasing year over year. Synthetic drugs — like Fentanyl — are getting more powerful and dangerous.
Prescription opioids saw the largest change with a 13.5% decrease. However, synthetic opioid deaths, such as Fentanyl, increased.
What is Fentanyl?
A synthetic-opioid — like Fentanyl — is man made. According to the CDC, it’s 50 times more potent than heroin.
Fentanyl can be illegally made and mixed into other drugs or it can be prescribed in patches, tablets, or lozenges.
Channing is so passionate about stopping avoidable deaths by overdose, she is on the board of the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance.
The alliance targets the homeless population in Austin to help in safe syringe exchange to lower the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.
“It’s a public health issue,” said Joy Rucker, Executive Director of Texas Harm Reduction Alliance. “We are also working to reduce overdose deaths.”
Many overdoses are the result of drugs being laced or cut with fentanyl. It’s a deadly opioid that is fast reacting and killing people.
The organization has only been in existence for a year and is funded by UT San Antonio to fight overdose deaths.
The organization goes to homeless encampments and passes out Narcan.
What is Narcan?
Narcan is a prescription that can completely or partially reverse an opioid overdose.
Narcan is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of opioids.
When an overdose happens, a body’s respiratory drive slows, meaning the natural instinct to breath is decreased. Narcan pulls the opiate off of the brain receptors and binds to it and blocks it. And it works fast.
“When you give someone Narcan you reverse the overdose so they don’t die,” Joy said. “Just from our own data that we collected in the year that we have been operating we have had 130 reversals.”
Joy also said since they have been in operation they have helped 20 people get on medicated assisted treatment and helped three of them get in housing.
“We look at syringe exchange, one of the evidence based models that reduces HIV and hepatitis C,” Joy said. “But it also gives us greater access to people who usually don’t seek help.”
Homeless encampments do not have many options for medical supplies or medical help with abscesses. Some just need food or a toothbrush.
Joy worked at a similar program in Oakland for more than 20 years. She said when someone provides a service to a group of people no one else wants to help, they are grateful and kind.
She said it also helps that she has empathy.
“We come from that world one way or another.”