Washington overdose deaths increased 38% in early 2020

Image Credit: HOGP
FILE - This Jan. 23, 2020, file photo released by the Tulare County Sheriff's Office shows evidence seized after a Jan. 5 traffic stop led officers to major methamphetamine and fentanyl trafficking operation, including labs inside three homes in Pixley, Calif., and drugs with a street value of $1.5 million, authorities said.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — With the pandemic looming overhead, Washington state saw a rapid increase in opioid-related overdose deaths at the start of 2020, according to research by the Washington Department of Health (DOH).

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the opioid crisis an epidemic due to accelerated death rates associated with the drug. DOH officials noted that the majority of Washington’s overdose deaths were a direct result of fentanyl, one of the strongest opioids on the market.

Their research concluded that 835 overdose deaths occurred in Washington during the first six months of 2020. In 2019, their research concluded that 607 overdose deaths occurred in Washington during the first six months of 2019. Most of these deaths involved multiple substances being combined, but Fentanyl-involved deaths increased by more than double from 137 in the first half of 2019 to 309 in the first half of 2020.

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One of Washington state’s medical advisors for COVID-19 response, Bob Lutz, correlated the damaging impact of the pandemic with this rapid increase in overdose deaths.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us,” Lutz said. “Those Washingtonians with substance use disorder may have found themselves using more frequently, and unfortunately, the data suggest they are also overdosing more often.”

Counterfeit opioid pills have played a significant factor in this uptick as well. Washington state officials say that fentanyl has been found in many drugs marked like your average prescription opioid pill. Traces of the drug have also been found in powders and black tar heroin.

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DOH officials want to make the community aware of telltale signs of an overdose, including “inability to wake up; slow or no breathing; and blue, gray or ashy skin, lips or fingernails.” They also suggest that anyone who is prescribed opioids keeps two doses of the medication Naloxone, also known as Narcan, available. This drug counteracts the impacts of an overdose and in many cases, saves lives. Local authorities throughout the state of Washington keep Naloxone on them in case of an emergency involving a citizen they’re in contact with.

You can learn more about how the state is combatting the opioid epidemic by visiting the 2018 Washington State Opioid Response Plan here.

If you or a loved one want treatment or just want to learn more, see the Washington Recovery Helpline, or call 1-866-789-1511.

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