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Fentanyl fuels overdose deaths

Drug surpassed other opioids in 2017

Drug overdoses and drug-related deaths are on the rise in Whatcom County and statewide. Health officials blame a synthetic opioid that can be 100 times more potent than morphine.

“Overdose deaths are a public health emergency, and fentanyl is a major driver,” Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, chief science officer for the state Department of Health, said in a press release.

After Whatcom County recorded no deaths related to fentanyl in 2018, 15 residents died from a fentanyl overdose in 2020. In 2021, Whatcom County reported 25 fentanyl-related deaths, according to a Department of Health dashboard.

Statistics suggest that fentanyl replaced heroin and prescription pills as the drug of choice for opioid users around 2017, Bellingham EMS Captain Joe Frank told the Bellingham City Council on Feb. 28.

“It started skyrocketing in 2015, and it hasn’t tapered down at all,” Frank said, referring to national trends. “It’s still on the rise.”

Fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it is inexpensive yet potent and often mixed with other drugs.

“Fentanyl is in everything anymore,” Frank said. “People are now misting fentanyl on marijuana” to encourage customers to come back, he added. 

The EMS captain said he had also heard about the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office finding “a lot of Xanax bars laced with fentanyl.”

One of the biggest obstacles to reversing the trend on drug overdoses locally is a lack of treatment facilities, Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Hewett told the City Council at the February meeting.

“That’s probably one of the other big things for us to continue the discussion on,” Hewett said. “How do we increase drug treatment and mental health beds here, directly in our community?”

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