Amid ever-rising overdose deaths, King County votes to declare fentanyl a public health crisis

Jul 19, 2022, 5:26 PM

Police officers check on a man who said he has been smoking fentanyl in downtown Seattle on March 1...

Police officers check on a man who said he has been smoking fentanyl in downtown Seattle on March 14, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The numbers are staggering.

“Seattle Police seized nearly 650,000 fentanyl-based pills in 2021 alone,” according to King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, noting that was 10 times the number seized in 2020.

Overdose deaths tied to fentanyl also continue to soar.

“Last year alone, the number of people who died from fentanyl more than doubled in King County to 396 people compared to the 170 people who died in 2020,” said Dunn ahead of a final vote on his proposal to declare fentanyl a public health crisis.

As Washington overdoses continue to rise, half of OD-linked deaths attributed to fentanyl

So far in 2022, King County is on track to set yet another new record — roughly 264 people have died from fentanyl, over a 46% increase compared to this time last year.

“Today, we declared fentanyl a public health crisis to sound the alarm that fentanyl is lethal, prevalent on our streets, and tragically claiming the lives of far too many people — children, parents, brothers, and sisters — here in King County,” Dunn said. “It just takes one pill to claim a life.”

“With today’s action, we forge a path to fight harder against the deadly substance and stop so many from dying of fatal overdoses,” added Dunn.

On top of declaring the public health crisis, the motion tasks Public Health with identifying strategies and recommendations to amplify its efforts to reduce fentanyl-related deaths.

“Fentanyl has claimed far too many lives, especially those who didn’t even know that’s what they were taking and those who were taking it legally through prescriptions,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, one of the co-sponsors of the proposal.

Kohl-Wells recalled her own mother’s struggle with the powerful opiate late in life.

“When she was in her late 80s, my mother became addicted to fentanyl through following her prescription, but fortunately, we caught it in time. And a very young nephew of my husband overdosed on it and died. It hits all social and economic sectors. In addition to raising important awareness, this legislation will ensure that Public Health – Seattle & King County is working to reduce the harm associated with fentanyl, educating folks about the risks, and keeping more people in King County alive.”

The DEA describes fentanyl as a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Many who take it are not aware of what they are taking because often it is disguised to look like a legitimate prescription pain reliever or added to heroin and other drugs without the user’s knowledge. Because of its high potency, fentanyl is deadly in very small doses.

Laura Lynch learned that through tragedy when fentanyl claimed the life of her 18-year-old daughter, Brillion. She had only taken half of a fentanyl-laced pill.

“I am so thankful this legislation has passed, and it makes me more optimistic about the future,” Lynch said. “There have been way too many innocent lives lost and I’m relieved this is starting to get the attention it deserves,” she said, adding a big thank you to Dunn and co-sponsors Sarah Perry and Kohl-Wells.

Hillary Johnson learned just how dangerous fentanyl is when she lost her son in April 2020.
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude,” said Jonson.

“The amplified strategies to gain control of this crisis gives me extreme hope for our community and it honors our loved ones who have passed on. Thank you, leaders.”

You can learn about the dangers of fentanyl, the impact it has had in King County, and what efforts are already underway to fight the crisis here.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Amid ever-rising overdose deaths, King County votes to declare fentanyl a public health crisis