Health department: Overdose deaths in Washington top 2,000 in 2021 and continue to rise

New data from the Washington State Department of Health show that deaths from drug overdoses continue to increase for Washington residents. Provisional data as of April 4 show drug-related overdose deaths surpassed 2,000 in 2021, a more than 66% increase compared to 2019.

“Overdose deaths are a public health emergency, and fentanyl is a major driver,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, the department’s chief science officer. “What looks like a prescription oxycodone pill could be a counterfeit with more than enough fentanyl to kill. People who use drugs should assume that any drugs bought on the street, online, or from a friend has fentanyl.”

Overdose deaths are increasing across all groups, and more than half of these deaths are due to fentanyl. Fentanyl overdose deaths have increased about 10-fold since 2016. Most deaths involved more than one substance, notably psychostimulants like methamphetamine. A majority of people dying from overdose tend to be male and 45 years old or younger, and the increase in overdose deaths is fastest growing among Black, Latinx and Native American/Alaska Native people.

“The continued increase in overdose deaths is alarming, but there are things we can all do to save lives. Carrying naloxone can make the difference between life and death in many overdose situations.” said Kwan-Gett. “It can be effective for all opioids, including fentanyl, but in some cases may require more than one dose to reverse an overdose.”

People should consider carrying at least two doses of naloxone to help prevent deaths from opioid overdose. Naloxone is available at many community organizations and pharmacies in Washington. To access naloxone at a pharmacy, call ahead to make sure they have it in stock and show this standing order to the pharmacist, which is a prescription for everyone in the state to use. Use this link to find naloxone near you.

More information on opioids and naloxone can be found here:

For those who use drugs and want to stop or cut back, help is available. Buprenorphine and methadone, two medications that treat opioid use disorder, can cut the risk of a fatal opioid overdose in half and reduce cravings and withdrawal. If you or someone you know wants treatment or just wants to learn more, see the Washington Recovery Helpline MOUD Locator, or call 1-866-789-1511.

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