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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Suicides, drug overdoses peak in Spokane County

By Rachel Alexander and Eli Francovich The Spokesman-Review

Suicides and accidental drug overdoses hit their highest levels since 2009 in Spokane County, mirroring sharp national increases in both types of death over the past several years.

Fatal drug overdoses killed 104 people in Spokane County, a jump from 73 last year. Nearly 80 percent of those deaths were accidental.

Suicides in Spokane County have climbed nearly every year since 2009, reaching a high of 98 last year. The National Center for Health Statistics recently reported the U.S. hit its highest suicide rate in 30 years, with significant increases for Native Americans, people age 45 to 64, especially white women, as well as girls between 10 and 14. The only demographic groups that did not see a rise in suicides were black men and people over 75, the national report said.

Kim Papich, a spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District, said suicide and drug use are often, but not always connected. Many of the factors that lead to drug use – poverty, access to education, health – can also lead to suicide.

“In public health in particular, we are all about broadening the perspective to think about those social determinants,” she said. “We have to take the focus off the individual drug and look at why people are using drugs,” she said.

Sabrina Votava, a coordinator with the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, said she’s heard that mental health professionals have been inundated over the last year. Votava said the continuity of care is an important step in lowering suicide rates, as well as increasing education about warning signs and prevention.

“Unfortunately I’m not very surprised about the number of suicides,” she said.

Methamphetamine remained the most common drug contributing to death, with 29 overdoses, but heroin-involved deaths more than tripled, from seven in 2014 to 22 in 2015. The state has not yet released data on deaths for 2015, but heroin-involved overdoses more than tripled in Washington from 2010 to 2014, with higher per capita overdose rates on the west side of the state.

In total, opioids, including heroin, morphine and other prescription drugs, were involved in 89 accidental overdose deaths last year.

It’s common for people to have more than one drug listed on their death certificate, though the county report does not say how many overdoses were caused by more than one drug. Statewide in 2014, more than half of overdoses involving an opioid listed more than one drug on the death certificate, and about 20 percent also listed meth, state health department data shows.

Law enforcement and health officials in Spokane have warned that the number of fatal heroin overdoses is likely to keep climbing in coming years.

Two-thirds of Spokane County’s suicides were men, and guns were used in nearly half the deaths. The county report does not break down suicides by race.

“To improve peoples’ lives, the healthy choice has to become the easy choice,” Papich said of both suicide and drug use prevention.