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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

McMorris Rodgers convenes round table on dangerous rise in fentanyl

An investigator for King County uses a fentanyl test strip in February to demonstrate tools the office uses to test drugs they find at the scene of deaths at the King County Medical Examiner in Seattle.   (Daniel Kim/Seattle Times)
By Ignacio Cowles The Spokesman-Review

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Tuesday held a round table on the importance of combating the flood of fentanyl into the Inland Northwest, flanked by city leaders, tribal representatives and mothers who lost children to overdoses.

The congresswoman’s HALT Fentanyl Act passed in the house of Representatives with bipartisan support in May. It permanently designates fentanyl-related drugs and similar substances as a Schedule I controlled substance, one that has a high potential for abuse and no current medical value. Heroin and Ecstasy are also Schedule I, as is marijuana, though it’s legal in Washington. Fentanyl itself remains a Schedule II drug because officials consider it to have some medical value. Fentanyl-related drugs recently categorized as Schedule I by Congress are ones that have been changed from pure fentanyl, removing the medical value of the drug.

Spokane was highlighted as a crisis center last year, when seizures of fentanyl rose 1,098% in the county. That led the Drug Enforcement Administration to choose Spokane as one of its 11 target sites for the Operation Engage initiative , with the goal to better connect with schools and community organizations. Marsha Malsam runs a foundation dedicated to educating on the dangers of fentanyl named after her nephew, who died of an overdose in 2016. She was at the meeting along with Debi Testa, whose son died of a fentanyl overdose.

Testa said Spokane authorities failed to protect her son from falling into addiction, noting that treatment centers were unable to keep patients away from the substances they abused. She questioned why there wasn’t a DARE-type program that could have prevented his death.

“Kids need to be removed from the equation,” she said.

The DARE program operated from 1989 to 2009, teaching kids about the dangers of using drugs.

Concerns were also raised about xylazine, which is increasingly mixed with fentanyl and can counteract the opioid overdose remedy Narcan. Spokane Police Craig Chief Meidl emphasized the danger, saying the department has been running out of the spray and had to order more Narcan than usual.

In a news conference afterward, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said there should be more awareness of mental health resources that the city has available and considered the possibility of increasing the law enforcement presence on Spokane school campuses to better respond to the crisis.

Editor’s note: This report was changed on June 28, 2023 to correct information about which drugs Congress voted in May to classify as Schedule 1 drugs.