TACOMA, Wash. - Drug-related overdose deaths in Washington topped 2,000 in 2021, representing a 66% increase compared to 2019, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
The major cause: fentanyl overdoses, which have increase tenfold since 2016, DOH says.
Nobody knows more about the impact of fentanyl than Jasmine Robinson. She lost her 21-year-old son Jaylen 18 months ago to what the Pierce County medical examiner called an "accidental overdose" of fentanyl.
"My son is now a statistic, you know, it's very sad because he had his whole life ahead of him," she said.
Jasmine wears some of his ashes in a small locket around her neck.
"His friend said, ‘Let’s do a Percocet, and I know someone who we can get it from,’" she explained. "They got it on Snapchat; Jaylen paid, I think, 20 dollars, and he took one pill and he died."
But it wasn’t a Percocet—it was a black market version of fentanyl that can be 100 times stronger than opioids like Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin.
"When they did the autopsy, only a quarter of the pill dissolved, and he was 285 pounds and 6'3"," she said. "A little bit is all it took."
Robinson said when it was explained to her that her son took fentanyl, she had no idea what it was. Now, she is on a personal mission to warn parents and their kids about the dangers of fentanyl.
"It appears this generation is just willing to pop any pill in their mouth, and it can kill them," she said.
The head of Seattle's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) division said drug cartels are competing against each other to get as many fentanyl pills onto the streets of the Northwest as possible.
"China and Mexico are flooding our city streets with poison," said DEA agent Frank Tarentino. "They are making a lot of money; they are looking to drive addiction, fentanyl is highly addicting."
He said in the past four months, agents have seized 1.1 million fentanyl pills and nearly 200 firearms in the Northwest.
"They don’t care about the users; for them, it’s all about, ‘How much fentanyl I can get on the city streets,’" he said.
Robinson told FOX 13 she’s frustrated with Tacoma Police, because she has evidence on her son’s phone that shows who sold the pill that killed him.
"Who knows who else that drug dealer gave a pill too, who died after Jaylen died? Those people could have been saved," she said.
Jaylen’s friends told her the dealer who sold the pill died of a drug overdose one month ago.
It’s hard to convict a drug dealer who is out to make money for the death of a user. But King County prosecutors have several open cases, where they are trying to convict the seller for substance abuse homicide.
"What we need to do is show a direct link between that drug delivery and the drug that caused the person's death," said senior deputy prosecutor, Joe Marchesano.
Prosecutors may get help from an unlikely source—the drug fentanyl itself.
"The double-edged sword of fentanyl is that you can overdose on it incredibly easily," said Marchesano. "It means it’s a much more provable case for us."
"A majority of people dying from overdose tend to be male and 45 years old or younger, and the increase in overdose deaths is fastest growing among Black, Latinx, and Native American/Alaska Native people," reads a statement from DOH.
"People say, 'Oh, he's in a better place – well, I don't feel that way, he was in a good place with us and here," said Robinson. "It’s a wasted life; he died at 21, that's way too young, he was just getting started."