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King County sets new record for deaths from drug overdoses

File photo. (AP)

The latest statistics from King County health officials show that deaths from drug overdoses have jumped yet again.

RELATED: Meth overdoses on the rise in Washington

There were 348 overdose deaths in 2016, when the county set a new record for overdose deaths. That record has been surpassed now that King County reports 379 deaths in 2017. The numbers come from two reports from Public Health – Seattle & King County and the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

A total of 69 percent of deaths from drug overdoses in 2017 involved heroin and opioids including fentanyl — the most common cause of drug-related deaths in King County. Deaths caused by meth are also on the rise – 136 people died from that drug in 2017. That is up sharply from 18 in 2008.

“Methamphetamine and heroin are the most common illicit drugs locally,” said Caleb Banta-Green, principal research scientist at the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. “They predominate in police evidence testing, drug court, drug treatment, calls to the Helpline, and deaths. Thankfully, based on the 2017 syringe exchange survey, we know that most methamphetamine and heroin want to stop or reduce their use. The county is building more capacity to help people quickly access treatment.”

Concern over fentanyl also continues to grow. The drug was linked to 33 deaths in King County 2017; up from 23 the year before. The county notes that the most common fatal overdoses are caused by opioids, but the majority of overdoses involve more than one drug.

According to King County health officials:

Overdose disproportionately affects young people, men, people experiencing homelessness, and certain racial and ethnic minorities. Half of all overdose deaths in 2017 were less than 46 years old and 17 percent were among persons experiencing homelessness.

The estimated rate of drug and alcohol-caused deaths was 30 percent higher among Blacks and five and a half times greater among American Indian/Alaskan Natives.

Drug overdoses by the numbers

The studies also report:

  • There have been 17 deaths linked to fentanyl so far in 2018.
  • 69 percent of users surveyed at syringe exchanges were homeless or impermanently house.
  • 42 percent of users surveyed at syringe exchanges had been incarcerated in the past year.
  • 17 percent of overdose deaths last year involved homeless people.
  • More than 8,000 nalaxone kits (used to save people overdosing on drugs) have been distributed to law enforcement, housing and treatment providers.
  • From the distributed nalaxone kits, a total of 2,297 overdoses were successfully reversed.

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