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Fatal drug overdoses declining slightly in King County after 2023 surge

caption: Tinfoil left behind from fentanyl use is shown on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Port Angeles.
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Tinfoil left behind from fentanyl use is shown on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Port Angeles.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Officials in King County say after a bleak year of increased drug overdoses in 2023, they are starting to see signs of hope. At the county’s fourth annual conference on substance use Thursday, officials said fatal drug overdoses are trending down slightly in 2024.

Brad Finegood is a strategic advisor with Public Health – Seattle & King County. He said when they met last year, “hope was hard to find. We were in a place of escalating overdose. Today I’m super excited to let you know that in 2024 our overdose numbers are actually going down a little bit. Where that exponential rise happened, right now year-to-date from last year, we’re down about 8.4% of people who have experienced fatal overdose. That’s because of all of us coming together with hope.”

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Finegood said last month that Washington state appears to be following a similar curve to the rest of the country, just with a slight delay. King County officials said there were 1,338 overdose deaths in 2023, of which 1,087 were due to fentanyl. So far in 2024, King County has had 433 overdose deaths.

Jon Ehrenfeld, the Mobile Integrated Health Program Manager for the Seattle Fire Department, said when it comes to overdose response, his teams have more tools now than they did just six months ago.

Last fall they revived one man, and provided him with the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, only to see him die of another drug overdose the next day, Ehrenfeld said. This spring after reviving people, paramedics in the field started offering those people the medication buprenorphine to stop their cravings for 24 to 48 hours.

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In one example, Ehrenfeld said for one teen it gave them time to call recovery specialists to the scene.

“They come out, they meet us on the scene in about two hours, we medically clear him, they get him into an inpatient treatment facility that night,” he said.

Last month Seattle also announced plans to build an overdose recovery center where people who have experienced an overdose can stay for up to 23 hours to receive care, medication assisted treatment, and connections to services.

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