Re-enactment of first responders treating an overdose (File photo)

Re-enactment of first responders treating an overdose (File photo)

WA health officials recommend having overdose reversing drug on hand amid alarming increase in drug-related deaths

WSDOH reports a 66 percent increase in drug overdoses since 2019.

New data from the Washington State Department of Health show that deaths from drug overdoses continue to increase for Washington residents. Provisional data as of April 4 shows drug-related overdose deaths surpassed 2,000 in 2021, a more than 66 percent increase compared to 2019.

“Overdose deaths are a public health emergency, and fentanyl is a major driver,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, chief science officer with the Washington State Department of Health. “What looks like a prescription oxycodone pill could be a counterfeit with more than enough fentanyl to kill.”

Kwan-Gett said people who use drugs should assume that any drugs bought on the street, online, or from a friend has fentanyl.

WSDOH says overdose deaths are increasing across all groups, and more than half of these deaths are due to fentanyl. Fentanyl overdose deaths have increased about 10-fold since 2016.

According to the agency, most deaths involved more than one substance, notably psychostimulants like methamphetamine. They also say a majority of people dying from overdose tend to be male and 45-years-old or younger, and the increase in overdose deaths is fastest growing among Black, Latinx, and Native American and Alaska Native people.

Officials with WSDOH are now recommending that people close to drug users keep multiple doses of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversing drug that can be lifesaving.

“Carrying naloxone can make the difference between life and death in many overdose situations,” said Kwan-Gett. “It can be effective for all opioids, including fentanyl, but in some cases may require more than one dose to reverse an overdose.”

Naloxone is available at many community organizations and pharmacies in Washington. To access naloxone at a pharmacy, call ahead to make sure they have it in stock and show this standing order to the pharmacist, which is a prescription for everyone in the state to use. Use this link to find naloxone near you.


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