SEATTLE — King County is on track to double its fentanyl-related deaths this year compared to 2020. The reason is likely linked to a sharp increase in lethal counterfeit pills flooding the United States.
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn is calling on the county's Budget and Fiscal Management Committee to consider additional funding to increase awareness about the danger of fentanyl.
Dunn wrote a letter to Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Wells, the committee chair, saying the county should amplify efforts like the 'Laced and Lethal' program, which launched in March 2021, to help educate teenagers.
"The crisis before us is worsening and will only claim more lives unless we make a meaningful commitment to get the message out that it only takes one pill to end a life," wrote Dunn. "Time is of the essence, and we should prioritize this life-saving work."
So far, King County has seen 256 fentanyl-involved deaths in 2021. Deaths totaled 172 in 2020 and 111 in 2019.
Last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency released a nationwide public safety alert warning people about the "alarming increase in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine." The alert added the number of DEA-seized counterfeit pills with fentanyl jumped nearly 430% since 2019, including 9.5 million pills recovered this year.
Caleb Banta-Green, the principal research scientist at the University of Washington Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute, believes Washington state is catching up to the national trend.
"This is going to increase," said Banta-Green. "I don't see a way this isn't going to increase for a year, two, three years, dramatic increase."
He said King County should look for ways to increase access to support and mental health care. As well as education about medications like Buprenorphine and Methadone, which are used to treat opioid dependence.
"Opioid Use Disorder is a treatable medical condition," explained Banta-Green. "Medications are the best we have to support recovery, and they reduce mortality by 50%. A tiny fraction of our population knows that."