Drug-use deaths hit record in King County

Drug deaths hit a record at 332 in King County last year, with two-thirds of them opioid-related. Heroin deaths dropped slightly, while deaths related to other drugs including benzodiazepines and fentanyl increased.

Drug-use deaths hit a record of 332 in King County last year, with two-thirds of those opioid-related overdoses, according to a report released Thursday by University of Washington researchers.

Heroin deaths dropped slightly, from 132 in 2015 to 118 last year. But fatal overdoses related to prescription opioids and fentanyl, a potent painkiller now being made illegally, increased.

The decline in heroin-related deaths is not very notable, said Caleb Banta-Green, lead author of the report, because the increase in fentanyl-related deaths made up for it.

“The bottom line is opioid addiction is the overall driver of deaths. People will use whatever opioid they can get. It’s just that which one they’re buying is changing a bit,” said Banta-Green, principal research scientist at the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI).

President Donald Trump officially declared the opioid crisis a “national emergency” in an announcement Thursday while holding a security briefing Thursday at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Trump said the drug crisis afflicting the nation is a “serious problem the likes of which we have never had” and said he’d be drawing up documents to formalize the declaration soon.

Banta-Green sees hope in local developments. A survey he conducted on opioid addicts showed that the vast majority of them want help, he said. But for most of them it needs to be “low-barrier” treatment with medications such as buprenorphine, he said, which satisfies their physical dependency but allows them to work, drive and function like non-addicts.

Five pilot treatment programs have been developed in Seattle and four are at full capacity, Banta-Green said. Federal funds are expected to ramp up programs, he said.

Even then, we still need to reduce the stigma associated with substance-use disorders, increase demand for treatment, and ensure adequate capacity, he said.

And despite the decline in heroin deaths, there are still troubling indications of the drug’s grip in King County.

Admissions to publicly funded treatment programs for heroin…

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