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Whatcom County passes resolution aimed at combating fentanyl

Move follows the lead of Lummi Nation, Bellingham in addressing drug crisis

Law enforcement seized 85,000 fentanyl pills in November 2022 in Whatcom and Snohomish counties.
Law enforcement seized 85,000 fentanyl pills in November 2022 in Whatcom and Snohomish counties. The Whatcom County Council, acting as the health board, passed a resolution Tuesday, March 26 meant to combat the drug crisis through prevention, intervention, treatment and aftercare. (Photo courtesy of DEA Seattle Field Division)
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

After months of work, Whatcom County leaders have come up with a plan to combat the highly addictive opioid fentanyl on all fronts, from prevention and education to treatment and aftercare.

The county council, meeting as the health board on Tuesday, March 26, unanimously approved a resolution calling on county Executive Satpal Sidhu to issue an executive order to activate the plan. Before the resolution goes into effect, the same group will meet as the county council on April 9 and vote on it again, as a formality.

Council members will continue to take public comment on the resolution through April 9 at council@co.whatcom.wa.us.

Council members Barry Buchanan and Ben Elenbaas introduced a resolution on Feb. 6 that proposed declaring the fentanyl crisis an emergency. Since then, the council members met with judges, the sheriff, the prosecuting attorney and elected leaders from Whatcom County’s cities to hammer out the resolution approved Tuesday.

Council is not asking Sidhu to declare a fentanyl emergency, as Lummi Nation did in September 2023, but rather to issue an executive order that would comprise marching orders for his staff, similar to Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund’s February executive order on fentanyl. 

The county’s order, to come after the April 9 council meeting, could include an education campaign, more opportunities for drug treatment, and jail time for drug users, among other actions.

Elenbaas said at the meeting that incarcerating fentanyl users is not meant to be a punishment for addiction. Even small amounts of fentanyl present a safety risk, especially to children. And the county would take steps to provide treatment in the jail for those charged with fentanyl possession, Elenbaas said.

Elenbaas emphasized that fentanyl is a countywide problem.

“It’s all across the spectrum,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from Lynden or Sumas or Lummi Nation. We’re all losing family members and friends, and it’s gotta stop.”


This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. March 27 with information on how the public can comment on the fentanyl resolution.

Ralph Schwartz is CDN’s local government reporter; reach him at ralphschwartz@cascadiadaily.com; 360-922-3090 ext. 107.

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