27 opioid overdoses in 7 days in Snohomish County

Health District: Ages ranged from 15 to 66
By Brian Soergel | Sep 12, 2019

During one week in July, 27 people in Snohomish County overdosed because of opioids. Two of those overdoses were fatal.

That information comes from the third annual seven-day point-in-time count by the Snohomish Health District in partnership with the Snohomish County Opioid Response Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group.

There were fewer overdoses reported this year compared to the past two counts, said health district spokeswoman Heather Thomas. The 2017 count included 37 overdoses, and the 2018 count increased to 57 overdoses. The number of deaths was the same this year as last year.

As of Aug. 5, there have been 63 opioid-related deaths in Snohomish County this year, 34 involving Fentanyl. There were 125 in all of 2018, 55 involving fentanyl.

The numbers for Edmonds during the seven-day count were the same as last year: Two of the overdoses were reported in Edmonds; one of those who overdosed had an Edmonds address.

Edmonds City Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, a member of the health district board, said the prevalence and use of Narcan, an overdose reversal drug, has helped led to the decrease.

Under a new standing order from the Washington State Health Officer, any person in the state can purchase naloxone from a pharmacy without a prescription.

“It’s saved so many lives,” Fraley-Monillas said. “A lot of the overdoses are coming from Fentanyl.” Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than opioids.

South County Fire spokeswoman Leslie Hynes said none of the cases it reported for Point in Time were in Edmonds. South County Fire serves the city through three fire stations.

For nearly two years, South County Fire has been actively participating in the MAC Group and Health District for the study. Its deputy chief of emergency services, Shaughn Maxwell, represents all county fire and EMS agencies on the MAC.

“Out of this experience, Chief Maxwell saw a need to educate people in our community on what they can do to save the life of someone overdosing on opiates,” Hynes said.

South County Fire’s “A,” Antidote, piece of its ACT First Aid program evolved from this. (The C stands for “CPR”, and T for “Tourniquet and Bleeding Control.”

“We teach people how to administer Narcan and talk about how to obtain a prescription if someone you know is at risk for overdose,” Hynes said. “Opiate overdose is now the leading cause of preventable death in people under 50. In many cases, addiction begins with a legal prescription following an injury or surgery – there’s a 40 percent chance of developing dependency with a 10-day prescription.”

ACT is a free one-hour class taught at Lynnwood Fire Station 15 (online registration: www.southsnofire.org/ACT). South County Fire recently just trained about 200 Edmonds School District transportation employees at Edmonds-Woodway High School.

“The bad news is that we are still deep in the opioid crisis,” said 21st Legislative District Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds). “The good news is that Narcan saves lives. I will continue to work on prevention and treatment, as well as funding to get naloxone in as many hands as we can.”

Many abusing opioids

In June, the Beacon reported that the Snohomish Health District estimated between 5,000 and 10,000 people in Snohomish County suffer from opioid substance abuse.

In addition, between 30,000 and 80,000 in the county are misusing opioids by using their own prescription – or someone else’s – illicitly, or in a way other than prescribed.

The point-in-time effort started two summers ago. Up until then, the only primary data about the effect of opioids in Snohomish County was total number of deaths. It could take 12 to 18 months to get those numbers.

To better analyze and respond to the opioid epidemic, the Health District aimed to gather data as close to real time as possible. The point-in-time count brings together partners to capture a snapshot of what the opioid crisis looks like in Snohomish County, Thomas said.

Hospitals, law enforcement, fire, EMS, the syringe exchange, and other partners voluntarily collected data on overdoses for one week.

In nearly three-quarters of the reported overdoses, the person received Narcan. Police or EMS administered naloxone to 12 patients, and eight others were given naloxone by a friend, family member, or bystander.

Heroin remains popular

Most of the overdoses were reportedly linked to heroin. In some cases, the heroin was used with other substances such as methamphetamine, alcohol, prescription opioids or benzodiazepine.

Of the 27 people who overdosed, 17 obtained the drug or drugs on the street.

This year’s point-in-time tally also included the youngest overdose patient of the three counts, a 15-year-old. The oldest person who overdosed that week was 66. More than half of the reported overdoses were people in their 20s and 30s.

The Health District said efforts over the past few years to reduce the number of prescriptions for opioids and to encourage people to properly store and dispose of their medications have been well received by medical providers and the public.

Unfortunately for those struggling with opioid use disorder, the district said, reducing the accessibility of prescription opioids may result in them turning to heroin.

Other takeaways from the report:

  • Slightly more men overdosed than women, with 14 men compared to 10 women.
  • When looking at race and ethnicity, about two-thirds of the people who overdosed were identified as White.
  • The most common location for reported overdoses was a private residence.
  • Five of the people who overdosed –18.5 percent of the total – were reported homeless.
  • Nearly one-third of the overdoses occurred between noon and 6 p.m.
  • More than half of the people who overdosed did not have 911 called in response to their medical emergency.

In addition to overdose data received from local partners, information was collected by the Corrections Bureau within the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. Just under 30 percent of new bookings during the seven-day period were inmates under opioid withdrawal watches.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more lethal than prescription opioids or heroin – is a growing concern. It has been found mixed into other substances, including pills sold on the street as prescription opioids.

Tracking fentanyl-related overdoses during the seven-day period was not feasible. However, data from the Washington State Department of Health indicates deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl are on the rise in Snohomish County.

Preliminary data from 2018 shows 55 deaths were related to synthetic opioids, a 111% increase from 2017. The number of fentanyl cases being investigated by the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force has also been steadily increasing.

The district notes that it is important to note that the information collected for the count was voluntary, so the data provided should not be construed as exhaustive or lab-confirmed. Forms were completed with information on the place and type of overdose location, as well as the place of residence for the patient.

Federal funding

Last week, Edmonds resident and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) announcement of more than $25 million in new federal funding for Washington state to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The funding for Washington state is part of more than $1.8 billion in funding announced today by HHS for prevention, treatment, and recovery services, as well as data collection on opioid overdoses.

“The opioid crisis continues to devastate Washington communities, and we need to do all we can to give those on the front lines of this epidemic the tools and resources they need to respond,” Cantwell said in a news release.

“(This) announcement of new federal funding to Washington state will support expanded opioid treatment, recovery, and prevention services, and improved opioid data collection.”

Cantwell said that 145 people fatally overdose on opioids or heroin nationwide each day, and nearly 650 Washingtonians and 50,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in 2017.

For more information on efforts being done through the Opioid Response MAC Group: snohomishoverdoseprevention.com.

 

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