Recent Overdoses in Grays Harbor County Suggest Fentanyl Pills Have Returned to the Region

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A recent, sudden increase in severe overdoses in Aberdeen and Hoquiam tied to what was described as a small blue pill has law enforcement officials concerned that the powerful opioid fentanyl has made a comeback in the county.

In one case in Hoquiam, police officers recovered the substance and believe it is a counterfeit, look-alike narcotic prescription pill.

“Given the immediate overdose impact to the 15-year-old juvenile who ingested only a part of the pill, we suspect the counterfeit pill contains fentanyl,” read a joint statement issued Friday by Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers and Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate. “The Hoquiam Fire Department had to use numerous doses of Narcan in order to save this child, which is also indicative of fentanyl.”

The police departments wanted to publicly share the threat “because this is a serious and emergent threat to health and public safety. In addition to the potency of fentanyl substances themselves, fentanyl can also be accidentally ingested by touch or if airborne, potentially resulting in a bystander, family member or first responder to suffer a severe unexpected overdose,” read Friday’s statement.

“With the changes in lifestyles with people cooped up more because of the COVID pandemic, coupled with the recent Washington Supreme Court decision in State v. Blake (which invalidated the state’s criminal drug possession statute), we are concerned more overdoses may occur with the presence of fentanyl laced substances in our area,” the statement continued.

Myers and Shumate shared the following CDC information about pharmaceutical fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges.

Most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl. It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product — with or without the user’s knowledge — to increase its euphoric effects.

Rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, increased over 16% from 2018 to 2019. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013. More than 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2019. The latest provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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