Fentanyl overdose deaths declared public health crisis in King County

Overdoses and deaths connected to the powerful opioid fentanyl are rising so fast in King County that health and county officials are calling it a public health crisis. 

More than 260 people have died this year due to overdose, officials said. The surge of fentanyl overdoses sweeping King County is set to break new records this year, as fatal overdoses are up 46% compared to this time last year, according to health officials. 

University of Washington professor Dr. Joseph Merrill says fentanyl can be found cut into almost every other street drug without someone knowing. It’s nearly the only opioid available without a doctor’s note and its potency is dangerous.

"You might have a pill you used yesterday, and you smoked it, and it was the right amount," said Merrill. "And today, you get another pill and there is more in it and then it’s not safe."

On Tuesday, the King County Council passed a motion declaring widespread fentanyl overdoses a public health crisis. The motion also directs the county to investigate how to amplify programs and strategies that reduce deaths and slash the drug's availability. It also instructs the county to present findings this October.

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Kendra Kruse says her family has forever been changed by the drug-- fentanyl took the life of her nephew in 2020.

"Nobody ever thinks it will be so close to them," she said.

Her nephew, 20-year-old Jayden Barker, shined bright in her large family. He had an infectious laugh that could lift spirits, said Kruse. He loved camping and soccer and planned to study sports medicine, thanks to a full-ride scholarship, but the gap between high school and college allowed him to reach for new and adult things

"A lot of kids are in that phase," Kruse said. 

But the Percocet he got from the streets turned out to be 100% fentanyl, said Kruse. 

"Addiction doesn’t discriminate whatsoever," Kruse said. 

Kruse believes public awareness is a battle itself, and Tuesday's council action is a step in the right direction if the path leads to saving lives.

"It’s never too late," she said, "Never, ever too late."