Overdose deaths accelerate in Washington in 2020

New data from the Washington Department of Health (DOH) show that overdose deaths in the state increased by 38% in the first half of 2020 compared to their levels in the first half of 2019. The department says that most of that increase came from deaths involving fentanyl.


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The preliminary data shows 835 overdose deaths in the first six months of 2020, compared to 607 deaths in the first half of 2019. Deaths that involved fentanyl more than doubled from 137 to 309 in that same timeframe. Most of the deaths involved multiple substances.  

Bob Lutz, state medical advisor for the COVID-19 response, blames the increase on the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us. Those Washingtonians with substance use disorder may have found themselves using more frequently, and unfortunately, the data suggest they are also overdosing more often.”

The increase in overdose deaths was highest in groups that already experience inequitable health outcomes including American Indian and Alaska Natives, Lantix and Black people.

The department says that this data is even more concerning because most of the deaths were caused by illicit fentanyl. This drug is a powerful opioid that many are unaware has entered the market.

In Washington, fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioid pills, as well as in powders and black tar heroin. People cannot necessarily tell if fentanyl is present based on the smell, taste or look of the drug, so DOH recommends that people should assume that any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it. 

This data comes as part of the Washington State Opioid Response Plan.