Deadly overdoses on track to hit record high in Washington

We’ve heard a lot about how fatal overdose numbers spiked during 2020, but new data shows so far this year, Washington state is on track to have even more deaths.

The state health department says it’s an alarming epidemic that’s largely driven by fentanyl. Officials say the drug is so dangerous, they’re taking a more unconventional approach to combating the issue. 

"We've had almost 420 overdose deaths of which almost 50% have been due to fentanyl," says Dr. Bob Lutz with the Washington State Department of Health. 420 overdose deaths in the first three months of the year is 40 more deaths than we had during that period in 2020. 

"That’s significant and we're unfortunately just getting started in the year," he said.

Fentanyl is at the heart of the issue, a drug significantly more addictive and deadly than any other. "Illicit fentanyl is much more readily available than it has been in the past," says Dr. Lutz. 

A report by the drug enforcement administration in 2020 showed the Pacific Northwest is being flooded with fentanyl. As health officials try to combat the lethal substance, they’re taking a different approach than just telling people to not do drugs.

"Acknowledging that people’s behaviors are not always healthy and there could be harm associated with them, how do you provide options to reduce the harm," says Dr. Lutz.

Dr. Lutz says to know the signs of overdose and encourages people to not use alone. They also strongly encourage drug users to carry Narcan, a drug that combats overdoses.

"My son would’ve been saved, with Narcan being in his room that night, so we have it here and we don't need it in our home, but we carry it just in case we run across that situation," says Colleen Gregoire, who lost her 20-year-old son Bobby to a fentanyl overdose last fall.

"I’m learning to live differently, I miss Bobby every day. His life had a purpose," she said.

Bobby was first introduced to painkillers after getting his wisdom teeth taken out. Colleen believes her son had no idea how deadly the pills were he got off the street. Now her life’s work is making sure others know before it’s too late.

"It’s the thing that keeps me going every day, and I know that he's looking down saying ‘mom you rock,’ because he would want that for me," she said.

Colleen believes everyone should have Narcan and says you’ll never regret having it.

The Washington Department of Health has taken steps to make Narcan widely available and easily accessible.