New statistics show overdose deaths this year in King County set to outpace 2022 record

Public Health Seattle & King County has upgraded its dashboard that shows data on overdoses -- deadly or otherwise. The dashboard shows a troubling trend of overdose deaths outpacing numbers from previous years despite only being three months into 2023.

Just halfway through March, the county has reported 278 overdose deaths for the year in 2023. This time last year, there were 194 overdose deaths reported.

Those totals include all drug and alcohol poisoning deaths, however, the county also breaks down those numbers into causes of death: alcohol poisoning, other drug (no opioid), stimulant (no opioid), opioid and stimulant, and opioid (no stimulant.)

The county refers to an opioid as fentanyl, heroin and/or prescription opioids. They define a stimulant as meth and/or cocaine.

The recent surge in overdose deaths is driven by fentanyl, which was involved in 70% of all confirmed overdose deaths that have occurred from Jan. 2022 to Nov. 2022, according to health officials.

In 2022, there were 525 opioid and stimulant deaths in King County, the highest it's ever been. Ten years ago, in 2012, there were 45 overdose deaths involving an opioid and a stimulant reported for the year.

An average of 17 overdose deaths have occurred each week in King County in 2022, the county reported.

According to their new dashboard, that would mean about 25 overdose deaths have happened each week in the first 11 weeks of the 2023 year.

The health department said the most disproportionately impacted communities in King County are:

  • People experiencing homelessness and people living in temporary or supportive housing.
  • American Indian and Alaskan Native (non-Hispanic) and Black (non-Hispanic) residents.
  • Communities located in Seattle and South King County, particularly Sea-Tac and Tukwila.

In the last six months, King County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel treated: 

  • 559 opioid overdoses in Oct. 2022
  • 508 opioid overdoses in Nov. 2022
  • 629 opioid overdoses in Dec. 2022
  • 639 opioid overdoses in Jan. 2023
  • 590 opioid overdoses in Feb. 2023

So far, 14 days in to March 2023, KC EMS has treated 255 overdoses, according to their dashboard. It should be noted that most overdoses treated by King County EMS are not fatal, so those numbers include both deadly and non-deadly.

You can see the health department's dashboard and findings here.