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King County leaders say they have new plans to fight the opioid crisis. But when?

caption: King County Executive Dow Constantine stands with members of the County Council and public health community at a press conference on Monday, March 4, 2024.
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King County Executive Dow Constantine stands with members of the County Council and public health community at a press conference on Monday, March 4, 2024.
KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

King County officials announced new plans to address the region's opioid crisis Monday, aiming to provide new avenues to help people who are addicted to dangerous drugs. None of the plans involve new funding and it’s uncertain when they might materialize.

At a press conference, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced new plans to stop people from dying from drug overdoses. The broad-ranging plans cover mental and behavioral health, mobile outreach, overdose treatment, and more services for young people addicted to drugs.

“Substance use disorder is complex, and there is not one single cause, nor one simple solution,” Constantine said.

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Aiming to address the multiple causes, the new plan includes:

  • King County will partner with Pioneer Human Services to open a treatment program in Seattle with room for 16 people.
  • The County also intends to re-open a 24-hour sobering center downtown.
  • Fire departments in the county will get more nalaxone to give out to people. The nasal spray stops the effects of an opioid overdose and can save someone’s life.
  • Public health officials also want to test up to 1,000 drug samples a year to cut cut down on the fentanyl in the county.

To do all of this work, county officials said it will hire dozens of people to work in substance abuse treatment, case management, and behavioral and mental health care. They’ll also add about 50 apprenticeships to attract new people into the field.

All of these plans will be paid for by existing taxes and initiatives already approved by King County voters. No new money will be allocated to this project, elected leaders said.

When exactly any of this will happen is unknown. Neither Executive Constantine nor anyone else at the press conference would specify a timeline. Clint Jordan of Pioneer Human Services, however, did comment on when a 16-bed residential treatment program could open.

"We’re targeting a six month open,” Jordan said. “I think that puts us in October, November, somewhere in there.”

The multi-pronged approach is an effort to reach as many people as possible as opioid use, especially fentanyl, is surging in King County. Seattle-King County Public Health reports a record 1,082 people died last year from overdoses. Just over two months into 2024, there already have been 134 people in King County who have died from an opioid overdose.

RELATED: New mental health teams are hitting the streets in downtown Seattle alongside police

“It's often a misnomer that people don't want help and don't want to get better,” said Brad Finegood with Seattle-King County Public Health. “People are willing to accept the help, it's just about maybe providing different types of help so it's up to us to innovate."

The Crisis Care Centers, paid for by an initiative approved by voters almost a year ago, still won’t open for several years.

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