King County Council votes to declare fentanyl a public health crisis amid overdose surge

So far in 2022, King County is on track to set yet another new overdose record.

File photo.

On July 19, the King County Council approved legislation to declare fentanyl a public health crisis in King County.

The proposal comes amid continuing sharp increases in the number of people dying from fentanyl overdoses. The number of people in King County who died from a fentanyl overdose more than doubled in King County last year alone, according to the King County Medical Examiner Office’s Fatal Overdose Dashboard.

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 percent increase compared to this time last year.

The Drug Enforcement Administration describes fentanyl as a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Many users are unaware that they are ingesting fentanyl, which are often disguised to look like legitimate prescription pain relievers or added to heroin without the user’s knowledge. Because of its high potency, fentanyl is deadly in very small doses.

“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,” Councilmember and co-sponsor of the legislation Reagan Dunn said. “With today’s action, we forge a path to fight harder against the deadly substance and stop so many from dying of fatal overdoses. My heart continues to go out to each and every person who has lost a loved one to fentanyl”

In addition to declaring the public health crisis, the motion tasks King County with identifying strategies and recommendations to amplify its efforts to reduce fentanyl-related deaths. This work would be performed by Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“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 council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles said. “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.”

Kohl-Welles said 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.


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