Fentanyl overdose deaths increasing in Washington

70 people overdosed in 2016

Fentanyl is a drug prescribed by doctors, but now abused by addicts. (PPB)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) – State health workers are sounding the alarm over synthetic opioid fentanyl and other fentanyl-like drugs after 70 people died in Washington in 2016.

Researchers in Washington found that in 2016 there were 70 lab-confirmed fentanyl-related overdose deaths compared to 28 in 2015.

Officials noted that in 2016 the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory modified its testing protocol to detect fentanyl analogs and lower concentrations. Using the 2015 testing protocol, 17 of the 2016 deaths would not have been detected and 53 would have been detected. Researchers found that, unlike in the eastern U.S., where white powder heroin is often mixed with fentanyl, the majority of the fentanyl-related overdoses in Washington in 2016 deaths did not involve heroin.

Although the increase in Washington is not as sharp as what has been reported in other states, officials are still concerned.

“While we still have a lot to learn about how these drugs are influencing drug use and overdoses in our state, this report answers some of our initial questions and gives us some insight to help shape our response to this challenge,” said state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “We are committed to do as much as we can to prevent opioid-related deaths in our state, and we’ll use what we’ve learned to help shape future work.”

The Washington Department of Health said in a prepared statement that fentanyl is a fast-acting, powerful opioid – 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin.

State records show that in 2016, there were 3 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Clark County. Cowlitz County had 1.