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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Drug overdose deaths on record pace in Spokane County last year

July 20, 2021 Updated Tue., July 20, 2021 at 5:44 p.m.

Overdose deaths in Washington are at record levels in part because of fentanyl laced pills such as these that are marked with and “M” or a “30.”  (courtesy Drug Enforcement Agency)
Overdose deaths in Washington are at record levels in part because of fentanyl laced pills such as these that are marked with and “M” or a “30.” (courtesy Drug Enforcement Agency)

It was a deadly year for overdoses in Spokane County, with the region recording the highest number of total overdose deaths in 2020 since 2016.

There were 102 total overdose deaths confirmed in 2020, with an increase in opioid, methamphetamine and fentanyl overdose deaths compared to the three years prior to 2020.

Statewide, those trends have continued into 2021, led by pills laced with fentanyl.

The problem is bad enough that state health officials are asking people using drugs to carry naloxone, which can reverse an overdose and prevent death. You do not need a prescription to get naloxone in Washington state, due to a standing order that allows any person at risk of an overdose or a person who assists people who might overdose.

The overdose scourge is happening among people of all ages, races and income levels, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

During the first three months of this year, 418 people statewide have died of an overdose. This is already more deadly than in 2020, when during there were 378 overdoses during the first three months of 2020.

In a news release regarding the overdose deaths, the health department blamed fentanyl for 46% of this year’s fatalities. The overdose data also showed a disproportionate number of deaths among American Indians, Hispanics and Black people.

The health department also noted high numbers of people under the age of 30 who died of overdose. Fentanyl is a potent opioid with 80 to 100 times the strength of morphine, according to the DEA. Fentanyl is showing up in pills, particularly blue pills marked with an “M” and “30” that are being billed as prescription opioid medications to treat pain.

These pills may contain fentanyl, and in some local situations, that means a deadly overdose. There were 24 overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl in Spokane County residents in 2020.

Local treatment centers saw the demand for services increase during the pandemic, and new statewide numbers appear to indicate that 2021 will be no different.

In urging people to carry naloxone, the state health department said drug users in rural areas might be especially susceptible to overdose death.

“The first few minutes are critical in a potential overdose, especially in rural areas where it can take emergency medical services 10 minutes or longer to arrive,” said Dr. Bob Lutz, state medical advisor for the state health department, in a news release.

He said awareness and training people to use naloxone can save lives.

“The more Washingtonians we can train on overdose recognition and response, and carry naloxone, the better prepared we are collectively to push back against a drug poisoning epidemic.”

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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