Lewis County Officers See Harsh Uptick in Overdoses


Since Lewis County law enforcement officers in numerous departments started carrying the opioid overdose-reversing drug Narcan in August 2017, there have been 12 officer-distributed deployments of the drug — and seven of them have been in the last six weeks.

A spike has also been seen in Thurston County, but officials with Lewis County Public Health & Social Services are calling any correlation between the two counties’ overdose upticks anecdotal.

“It’s kind of impossible to pinpoint it at the local level with a definitive answer, but from what the state and the region has seen, normally these spikes are due to a batch of drugs having fentanyl in them potentially, and … with fentanyl being mixed in with other drugs that don’t have opioids in them, such as cocaine or meth,” said Community Health and Contracts Coordinator Katie Strozyk, who noted that all Narcan administrations in that six-week time span have successfully revived the overdose victim.

Such numbers are in tune with other somber statistics showing hospitalizations tied to overdoses in Lewis County within a two-month timeframe — September to present — are higher than all of those in 2017. Although Strozyk added, specific numbers aren’t available, as they need to be verified by healthcare providers.

“For 2018, we’re already over four times as many hospitalizations that we had in the last year,” she said.

For local health officials, statistics represent affirmation that getting Narcan in law enforcement hands was the right decision in combatting a crisis that has left no community across the nation unscathed and defied demographic and socio-economic boundaries.

“I think it assures us that a year ago, when we started trying to really address this and give officers some tools, we did the right thing, and that without that work being done a year ago, outcomes for people would be much worse,” said Deputy Director of Public Health & Social Services JP Anderson.

Strozyk was instrumental in the push to get officers Narcan, which was initially carried by each cop or deputy in the Centralia and Chehalis police departments and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. Six months later, the Morton Police Department started carrying it, too. Doses are either carried personally or in squad cars, and anyone carrying it received training on how to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose and how to administer the nasal dose. There are no adverse side effects if a dose is given to someone who isn’t overdosing.

“There have been administrations throughout the county all the way from Centralia all the way out to Randle. A lot of them that we’re seeing are concentrated to the Centralia area, but we’re not sure why. It may just because of the concentration of the population; it could just be due to shorter response time from Centralia Police,” said Strozyk.

Officers file reports that filter through Strozyk and are sent to state offices. The reports delve into the details of each deployment — asking officers if there was any indication what drug the person may have been using and their demeanor after being revived.

Narcan stashes are supplied through a partnership with the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute and other providers.

Danette York, director of Public Health & Social Services, said the past year has seen players on the national and regional level addressing what’s been dubbed the opioid epidemic. In October 2017, President Donald Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency.

“We’ve … seen a significant shift in the mindset of policy makers. So even at the state and national level, they’ve recognized that we’re in an opioid epidemic and a crisis and that something has to be done,” said York, who said funding efforts have started to flow.

Meanwhile, Lewis County’s opioid taskforce, formed largely from Strozyk’s efforts, has discussed multi-faceted programs of care that address Lewis County’s specific needs. Members are a cross-section of justice, health and faith-based officials.

That collaboration has resulted in a medication assisted treatment plan, set to be implemented in the jail in early 2019. Inmates suffering from addiction will have access to prescription medication that curb the craving for a fix and mitigate the devastating effects of withdrawal. It’s set to be funded through grant dollars, said Anderson.

“That’s an area that we didn’t have a year ago that we’re now getting in a major way … that really, I think, a lot of people have come to see the value of in a pretty short time,” said Anderson.

The Chronicle previously reported there were three accidental overdose deaths in Lewis County in the first quarter of 2018.

In 2017, seven people in Lewis County died of accidental drug overdoses. Two of those deaths were associated with opiates and the other five from methamphetamine. Meth and heroin have dominated the local drug scene in terms of popularity on the street for the past few years, said Police Chief Carl Nielsen in an email to The Chronicle. Nielsen said the two drugs “are running about even.”

The previous year, 2016, saw three deaths — one from an unidentified opiate, one from meth and the other from heroin, according to Chief Deputy Coroner Dawn Harris.

Lewis County had 13 fatal overdoses in 2011, five in 2012, five in 2013, nine in 2014 and seven in 2015.