Proposal to declare fentanyl public health crisis in King County

King County is on track to set another record for fentanyl-related deaths in 2022.

KING COUNTY, Wash. – Editor’s Note: The above Video of the UW study finding use of fentanyl has been released in Washington state originally aired March 9, 2022.

A proposal to declare fentanyl a public health crisis in King County is nearing full approval.

King County Councilman Reagan Dunn’s law passed unanimously Thursday by the council’s Legal, Judiciary, Health and Human Services Committee. According to a press release, the law will now be submitted to the entire King County Council for final approval in the next few weeks.

King County is on track to set another record for fentanyl-related deaths in 2022. The 249 deaths so far this year represent a 43% increase compared to this time last year, when 396 fentanyl overdoses were reported.

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In the past year, the number of people who have died from a fentanyl overdose has more than doubled the King County Medical Examiner Office Fatal Overdose Dashboard.

After declaring a public health crisis, the proposed legislation would prompt Public Health – Seattle & King County to step up efforts to reduce fentanyl-related deaths.

“The proliferation of fentanyl in our communities is nothing short of heartbreaking and tragic, claiming the lives of too many people — sons, daughters, sisters, brothers — across our county,” Dunn said in a statement. “This is an urgent issue that requires our full attention and resources to reverse the current trend in fentanyl-related deaths, which continues to rise year on year.”

A survey by the University of Washington’s Addiction, Drugs and Alcohol Institute (ADAI) found a sharp increase in intentional use of the deadly opioid fentanyl across the state.

The biennial survey of nearly 1,000 people who use syringe service program websites were asked a series of questions during the fall.

Last year’s results showed that fentanyl use has increased by 18% since 2019, with 42% of respondents reporting having used the illicit drug in the past three months. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they took the drug intentionally, which the institute’s lead researcher says represents a significant change from a few years ago, when most fentanyl intakes were unintentional.

The survey was backed by data from the Seattle Police Department suggesting officers seized nearly 650,000 fentanyl-based pills in 2021. In 2020 there were a total of 63,000. Fewer than 200 fentanyl pills were seized in 2018.

“I’ve been researching drug trends for 20 years, and the growth of fentanyl is the biggest and fastest change we’ve seen, and also the deadliest,” said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, Senior Research Scientist at ADAI.

King County launched a pilot program in March to help people in the event of a fentanyl overdose. During the first three weeks of the pilot, Eastside Fire & Rescue provided three naloxone leave-behind kits to help bring people out of respiratory arrest when they overdose on opioids.

To further discourage the sale of fentanyl, King County prosecutors also began prosecuting the drug dealers themselves and charging them after fatal overdoses.

Prosecutors have charged three people with “controlled substance homicide” between 2021 and October. Only two were charged in 2019 and 2020.

“We normally go out and do seizures, but now we’re using a lot of our detective resources to secure the chain,” said Sgt. Timo Meier. “If you try to sell this stuff, we’ll find you.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration said fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Many users are unaware that they are taking fentanyl, which the DEA says is often disguised to look like a legitimate prescription pain reliever or added to heroin without the user’s knowledge. Fentanyl is deadly in very small doses due to its high potency.

According to the King County Sheriff’s Office, about one in three pills used in drug seizures contains enough drug to kill someone on the first dose. Proposal to declare fentanyl public health crisis in King County

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