Seattle area sees more overdoses in 2023 already than in all of 2020

The majority of overdose deaths involve fentanyl.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
There have been more overdose deaths in Washington state's most populous county this year as of Monday than in all of 2020, according to data from Seattle-King County Public Health.

The department recorded 524 overdose deaths in the county in 2023, exceeding the entire annual total of 2020, during which the county saw 508 overdose deaths. It is now on pace to exceed last year's record-breaking total of 1,000 overdose deaths.

According to the health department data, the majority of overdose deaths involved opiods/fentanyl.

Counterfeit fentanyl has increased in popularity, and the cost of the drug has come down to just a few dollars per pill, with fake pills being made to look like oxycodone. According to the DEA, 60 percent of them contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.

Fentanyl deaths in the county have spiked, increasing 42 percent from 2021 to 2022. According to health department data, from January to April, Seattle medics responded to 680 overdoses in downtown Seattle.

Across the county, EMS crews are exceeding last year's responses to overdoses as there were 2,582 overdose responses in King County between January and April 2023, compared to 1,429 in 2022, and 995 in 2021.

Seattle Fire Department often treats the same patients multiple times for opioid overdoses. If the troubling trend continues, there could be approximately 1,500 deaths from overdose in King County by the end of 2023.

Fentanyl overdoses are so rampant that in January, the King County medical examiner was running out of places to store the dead bodies. Additionally, over half the record number of  310 deaths among the homeless in Washington’s most populous county in 2022 were attributed to Fentanyl. 

Things have gotten so bad that The Washington State Health Care Authority recently launched the Friends for Life campaign, encouraging teens to carry Naloxone, a drug to counteract an overdose, and instructing them when to use it.

The campaign’s website offers a “Partner toolkit” so teens can “keep each other safe and end opioid overdose deaths,” and even offers buttons to wear that read “I carry Naloxone.”

This is unlikely to help the situation. In 2022, Seattle and King County Public Health distributed over 10,000 naloxone kits, and roughly 100,000 fentanyl test strips, yet the numbers of overdoses and overdose deaths increased. 

On Tuesday, the Washington Legislature in a special session passed a new law to criminalize drug possession while creating new options for substance abuse treatment.

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