Health officials say overdose deaths in Pierce County are high, but treatment rates low

Washington’s battle with fentanyl continues to worsen, and data from the CDC shows Washington had one the highest increase of opioid overdose deaths in 2020.

Health officials say Pierce County is an area of the state where fentanyl addiction and deaths are particularly high, but the treatment rate is low.

A new clinic in Puyallup aimed to serve the under-served hopes to change that. 

"In Pierce County, we see fentanyl massively on the rise and it’s very concerning," says Benjamin Rae a nurse practitioner with Ideal Option. Rae says one of the alarming things he’s seeing is fentanyl addiction is progressively hitting a younger population. He says many of his patients are teens now, which years ago was not the case. "Less than 1% of our patients have been successful going cold turkey."

Rae says withdrawal symptoms can be deadly. One of the major ways their clinics help patients is through prescription medication that helps them get through it.

"It’s like scaffolding, so if your brain is a building and that building has been destroyed through some disaster, you'll go in and you’ll prop up scaffolding all around the building while it is rebuilt, so the medication I think of it kind of like the scaffolding-and as the brain heals you can slowly remove the scaffolding," says Rae. 

Patient Tony Vela says the ideal option has been key in getting and keeping him clean for nearly a year after battling with his opioid addiction for 7 years.

"It got to the point where I didn’t really want to take it anymore, I was taking it so I wouldn't get sick."

Vela says the withdrawal from the pills was so severe, he’d go back to them because he couldn’t take the pain.  The medication and services here finally changed that. But he admits before coming to the clinic, he was in a dark place. He knew pills laced with fentanyl could be deadly.

"That’s how deep I was into the addiction that I was willing to take that chance just to get that fix."

He says he knows he has a long road ahead of him but says he’s grateful for how much his life has already turned around.

"Once you take that first step and ask for help, it's worth it," says Vela. 

Rae says he hopes their new clinic in Puyallup will have a big impact on the many Pierce County residents struggling with opioid addiction.

"80% of people in Pierce County are not receiving services." 

Rae says if he had a teenage child he would talk to them regularly about the dangers of fentanyl, and thinks there needs to be more awareness and discussion about the drug that’s destroying countless lives.

"Whether it’s in our school, churches whether it’s in our gyms-having advertisements-‘check in with your child-what’re they doing on the weekends,’ I think there’s a lot of room for education in our communities around this crisis." 

Ideal Option has clinics providing outpatient treatment across Washington State. They say a majority of their patients are on Medicare or Medicaid and encourage people to not think they can’t afford services or treatment-they say the resources are there for anyone ready to ask for them.