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Fentanyl overdoses soaring as trends change

A candelight vigil will be Tuesday, Aug. 31 at County Campus, 3000 Rockefeller Ave.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Opioid overdoses in Snohomish County are rising, with more than 90 dead and hundreds saved in just the first six months of 2021. 
A potent pain medication called Fentanyl is driving deaths and is heavily weighted in relation to treatment calls.
This synthetic opioid originally was developed for cancer patients in severe pain and in hospice care.
Fentanyl is being synthesized and pressed into counterfeit oxycodone pills that mimic the real thing.
Predominantly,though, people are smoking it, and are seeking it out by name, from what substance abuse treatment provider Bryan Blythe has observed. He is a physician assistant at Ideal Option, a medication-assisted treatment provider, in Arlington.
He estimates that “75 percent of my new patients are fentanyl patients, and in jail (where he administers treatment), it’s 75 percent there,” Blythe said. “And they’re specifically saying Fentanyl” is what they sought out as their drug of choice.
Fentanyl’s rise has come in like a tidal wave over the past two years.
Fentanyl deaths eclipsed heroin deaths in 2018 and other prescription opioid deaths in 2019 in Snohomish County.
This year, there have been 95 opioid deaths up to early July, the county medical examiner’s office has logged. Of those, 69 were due to fentanyl; just 20 were heroin, its data showed.
Fentanyl, like other opioids, requires a tolerance. Counterfeit Oxycontin pills made from Fentanyl catch people off-guard.
“Even experienced users say they can’t tell the difference between a counterfeit pill and a pill manufactured by a pharmaceutical company,” says a fentanyl warning news release from Portland, Oregon.
Fentanyl is also mixed into heroin and methamphetamine without people knowing. In some cases, people coming to start treatment are surprised to learn they have Fentanyl in their system, Blythe said.
Officials who weathered COVID-19 say there really is a dual pandemic happening. It could make the county’s annual overdose awareness vigil Tuesday, Aug. 31 bittersweet.
Stress and isolation during COVID-19 shutdowns exacerbated opioid use.
Two county hospital emergency departments saw a 15% jump in opioid overdose patients from 2019 to 2020, data showed, with 547 such patients coming into either Providence or Swedish Edmonds last year.  
One hundred and eighty people died last year from opioid overdoses, a 25% jump from 2019. There were just 100 opioid overdose deaths logged in 2017 comparatively. 
In 2020, paramedics and police officers administered 805 doses of Naloxone, an overdose-reversing nasal spray, versus 682 in 2019.
State officials advise people who are friends with people who use drugs to carry Naloxone.
The public can buy Naloxone, also known as Narcan, at some retail pharmacies. Amy Hill, the county’s Opioid Outreach Specialist, can train groups how to use the spray. Her office is 425-388-7209.
If people choose to use drugs, they are told to never do so alone.

Overdose vigil, fair
Snohomish County’s fifth annual event for International Overdose Awareness Day will be Tuesday, Aug. 31 at the Snohomish County Campus, 3000 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett.
A resource fair will be held in the rooms of the Robert J. Drewel Building on the campus from 5 to 6:15 p.m. A vigil begins at 6:30 p.m. on the plaza, with a moment of silence and candle lighting at 7:30 p.m. to honor both the deceased and those struggling with addiction.
The resource fair restarts from 8 to 9 p.m. inside the Robert J. Drewel Building on the campus.




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