3 die in King County within hours in overdose cluster

RENTON, Wash. -- Three people died of fentanyl overdoses in King County Thursday in what health officials called an overdose cluster.

The victims died within hours of each other and were within two miles on the border of Kent and Renton. Authorities said each of them took pills laced with fentanyl.

"It's fairly irregular when we have that many people die within a short period of time in the same geographic vicinity," said Brad Finegood of Public Health Seattle-King County.

The proximity opens up the possibility that the pills could have come from the same source. Fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills are becoming increasingly more common in Pacific Northwest communities.

Fentanyl is an incredibly potent substance, 50 to 100 times more than heroin. Health officials say a few specks in a pill can kill someone and because there's no smell or taste and it's not visible to the naked eye, there's no way to know the pill is laced with fentanyl.

"These fentanyl pills we are seeing are counterfeit pressed pills, they're not pills that you would get from the pharmacy," Finegood said. "That is how we're seeing fentanyl come into our community at a fairly alarming rate."

Five years ago, five people died in King County from fentanyl overdoses. Last year, 106 people died.

Renton Police said one of Thursday's victims had been buying Percocet off the street for pain management. He likely had no idea the pill he bought would kill him. While buying medication on the street is never safe, it's increasingly becoming more dangerous with fentanyl becoming more prominent.

Overdose deaths are preventable. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose and in Washington state, it's getting easier to get your hands on it.

Back in August, the state Department of Health signed a standing order for naloxone, which means anyone can walk into a pharmacy without a prescription and get naloxone. Officials say it's best to call ahead to make sure the pharmacy has it on hand. Medicaid covers the entire cost of most naloxone and most commercial health insurance companies cover at least one form of naloxone.

For those without insurance, naloxone is available at some treatment facilities, injection sites and health clinics.

The City of Seattle is also working to give away hundreds of kits and hold training sessions.

If you are with someone who overdoses, first call 911 and then administer naloxone. The state's Good Samaritan law will protect you from prosecution, even if you are in possession of drugs.

"Our law enforcement friends are much more concerned with saving a life than they are prosecution, so we encourage everybody, if they witness an overdose, not only do you use naloxone but the first thing you need to do is call 911," Finegood said.

If you're struggling with addiction, the Washington Recovery Helpline can help.