Fentanyl Fuels Rise in Drug-Related Deaths in Tri-Cities, WA
Twelve people have died of drug overdoses in Franklin County this year.
It’s just one less than what the county saw for all of 2020, many of which came from a combination of fentanyl and methamphetamine.
As Benton County improves, 21 people have died from overdoses, one less than around the same time last year, which was a high in five years.
Fentanyl continues to drive the increase, accounting for the majority of deaths in Benton County for the second year in a row.
It comes as state officials fear fentanyl could lead to record overdoses statewide.
Preliminary data shows 418 overdoses in Washington state for the first three months of the year compared to 378 the year before.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Police and health officials say the drug is often used instead of less potent choices. For example, the state has warned people that blue pills marked with an “M” or “30” often contain fentanyl, even though people say it is oxycodone.
State health officials are asking people to carry naloxone if they plan to take a drug not bought at a pharmacy. The state’s top health official has a standing order in place that makes the drug, also known as Narcan, available to anyone who wants to buy it.
Naloxone is given as an injection or nasal spray to a person overdosing on opioids and temporarily blocks the effect. He saved lives.
The order allows anyone to buy it without a prescription at any drugstore or syringe service program, such as Blue Mountain Heart to Heart at 8514 W. Gage Blvd., Kennewick.
“The first few minutes are essential with a potential overdose, especially in rural areas where emergency medical services can take 10 minutes or more to arrive. The majority of overdose reversals occur because a layman was the first responder and administered naloxone, ”said Dr. Bob Lutz, state medical adviser for the Department of Health.
Franklin, Benton death
Franklin County Coroner Curtis McGary said the peak in deaths came earlier this year, when three men died in a single weekend from a combination of methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Diego Aviles, 30, a computer programmer, was found at his home on February 20. Her brother, Aron Aviles, 25, a construction worker, was discovered early the next morning at his home.
Then a third man, Alejandro Lopez, 24, died that night in Pasco.
No one has been arrested in connection with these deaths.
In Benton County, the 21 overdose deaths were spread over the year, with fentanyl accounting for 11 of the deaths, with eight more being the result of methamphetamine.
While it is not known whether this was the first time the victims used drugs, three of those deaths were from people not using fentanyl.
Benton County Coroner Bill Leach said programs to tackle rising fentanyl addictions have overtaken COVID in the past year.
The lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions have isolated people with drug addiction and made treatment more difficult to obtain, according to an Associated Press report.
While nationally the number of deaths has increased, it is highly likely that it is due to people already struggling with addiction, Shannon Monnat, sociology professor at the Syracuse University which studies the geographic patterns of overdoses.
McGary sees a possibility of curbing the growing number of drug-related deaths – a treatment center.
A study on converting Trios Health’s hospital buildings into a treatment center found this to be financially viable and necessary.
Benton County Commissioner Jerome Delvin has promised the center will be built, whether in downtown Kennewick or near the County Justice Center, but that remains uncertain. The center would combine addiction and mental health treatment and would be the first of its kind in the Tri-Cities.
Both counties would have access to the facility.
What remains unclear is who would pay to exploit it. The two county commissioners proposed asking transit voters to reduce the sales tax that goes to Ben Franklin Transit by 0.1% and in return they would approve a 0.1% sales tax to fund the operational parts of the center.
The commissioners could approve the tax for the mental health and drug treatment center regardless of the drop in the transit tax.
The transport committee did not hold a vote on whether it should be put on the ballot.