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Following Spike in Fentanyl-related Deaths, Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn Wants Fentanyl Declared a Public Health Crisis

Summary

King County Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn issued a letter requesting that Public Health – Seattle & King County declare the soaring number of fentanyl-related deaths to be a public health crisis. Dunn also introduced a companion motion at the King County Council declaring fentanyl overdoses a public health crisis and requesting the executive to identify strategies and recommendations regarding the county’s public health response.

Story

Today King County Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn issued a letter requesting that Public Health – Seattle & King County declare the soaring number of fentanyl-related deaths to be a public health crisis. Dunn also introduced a companion motion at the King County Council declaring fentanyl overdoses a public health crisis and requesting the executive to identify strategies and recommendations regarding the county’s public health response.
 
In his letter, Dunn points out that deaths due to fentanyl overdose have more than doubled since 2019. So far in 2021, 338 people have died from fentanyl according to King County’s Medical Examiner’s Office—almost one person per day, and half of all overdose deaths have been due to fentanyl.

Writes Dunn, “The proliferation of fentanyl throughout our communities, combined with the high rate of death caused by the substance, warrants immediate action. Declaring fentanyl to be a public health crisis will doubtlessly save lives by raising awareness of important information such as the prevalence of fentanyl, the high levels of risk of death, how to respond in the case of an overdose, and how to recognize warning signs of potential fentanyl use in friends and loved ones. It will also affirm our commitment to taking all necessary action to stop the devastating spread of fentanyl and prevent more fentanyl-caused deaths.”

Dunn also cited the wide availability of fentanyl, writing, “In addition to the deadly aspect of fentanyl, the substance is increasingly prevalent through the illicit drug trade. According to interim Seattle Police Department Chief Adrian Diaz, the Seattle Police Department has seized nearly 650,000 fentanyl-based pills this year alone, which is ten times more than 2020. This is an especially shocking figure when we consider that fewer than 200 fentanyl-based pills were seized in 2018.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration describes fentanyl as a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Many users are unaware that they are ingesting fentanyl, which are often disguised to look like legitimate prescription pain relievers or added to heroin without the user’s knowledge. Because of its high potency, fentanyl is deadly in very small doses, which often results in overdose deaths.

Dunn’s motion declaring the public health crisis will be referred to the Committee of the Whole when the King County Council resumes session in January.
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