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Amid overdose surge, Council declares fentanyl a public health crisis

The King County Council on Tuesday approved Councilmember Reagan Dunn’s legislation, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Sarah Perry, to declare fentanyl a public health crisis in King County.

The proposal comes amid continuing sharp increases in the number of people dying from fentanyl overdoses. The number of people in King County who died from a fentanyl overdose more than doubled in King County last year alone, according to the King County Medical Examiner Office’s Fatal Overdose Dashboard. So far in 2022, King County is on track to set yet another new record — roughly 264 people have died from fentanyl, over a 46% increase compared to this time last year.

“Today we declared fentanyl a public health crisis to sound the alarm that fentanyl is lethal, prevalent on our streets, and tragically claiming the lives of far too many people children, parents, brothers, and sisters here in King County,” Dunn said. “With today’s action, we forge a path to fight harder against the deadly substance and stop so many from dying of fatal overdoses. My heart continues to go out to each and every person who has lost a loved one to fentanyl, and I’m grateful to my colleagues for their support in passing this important measure.”

In addition to declaring the public health crisis, the motion tasks King County with identifying strategies and recommendations to amplify its efforts to reduce fentanyl-related deaths. This work would be performed by Public Health - Seattle & King County.

“Fentanyl has claimed far too many lives, especially those who didn’t even know that’s what they were taking and those who were taking it legally through prescriptions,” Kohl-Welles said. “When she was in her late 80s, my mother became addicted to fentanyl through following her prescription, but fortunately we caught it in time. And a very young nephew of my husband overdosed on it and died. It hits all social and economic sectors. In addition to raising important awareness, this legislation will ensure that Public Health - Seattle & King County is working to reduce the harm associated with fentanyl, educating folks about the risks, and keeping more people in King County alive.”

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.

Laura Lynch lost her daughter Brillion at the age of 18 to a fentanyl overdose. Brillion only took a half of a fentanyl laced pill.

"I am so thankful this legislation has passed, and it makes me more optimistic about the future,” Lynch said. “There have been way too many innocent lives lost and I'm relieved this is starting to get the attention it deserves. I am especially grateful and applaud Reagan Dunn for proposing this vital legislation as well as each of the council members who have co-sponsored it and voted to pass it."

Hillary Johnson lost her son in April of 2020 due to Fentanyl.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I’d like to give a special thank you to Councilmembers Reagan Dunn, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Sarah Perry for spear heading this legislation,” Johnson said. “Also, thank you all Councilmembers and committees involved for recognizing the critical need for the legislation to pass. The amplified strategies to gain control of this crisis gives me extreme hope for our community and it honors our loved ones who have passed on. Thank you, leaders.”



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