State Overdose Deaths Rose in the First Quarter of 2021


Statewide overdose deaths increased in the first three months of 2021 compared to 2020.

Overdoses increased from 377 in the first three months of 2020 to 429 in 2021, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Health (DOH).

About 191 overdoses from 2021 are linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine, per a July 20 news release. Varying amounts of fentanyl are most likely found in blue pills marked with "M" and "30," the release says. Such pills have been marketed as prescription opioid medication, the state says.

Thurston County has recorded 11 overdose deaths in the first three months of 2021, according to data the DOH shared with The Olympian. In the first three months of 2020, Thurston County saw fewer than 10 overdoses, but exact data is not released. The DOH does not share numbers smaller than 10 in accordance with state law, wrote DOH spokesperson Eloise S.L. Harris in an email statement.

The state recorded 13 overdose deaths in Thurston County during the first three months of 2019, per the data. There were 10 deaths in the first quarter of 2018 and fewer than 10 in first quarter of 2017, according to DOH data.

Data from 2020 may change as it has not been finalized and the preliminary 2021 data is expected to change as well. The data the DOH shared with the Olympian is valid as of July 12.

Across the state, the DOH counted 1,728 overdoses in all of 2020, 1,259 in 2019 and 1,181 in 2018, per the data. Thurston County saw a total of 49 overdoses in 2020, 39 in 2019 and 37 in 2018, the data show.

In response to statewide trends, state health officials are asking people to carry two doses of naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, if they plan on consuming any drug not purchased at a pharmacy or cannabis dispensary.

People also are advised to carry naloxone if they are near friends or family that consume such drugs, according to the July 20 news release.

Overdoses are highest among groups with inequitable health outcomes such as American Indians, Alaska Natives, Hispanics, Latinos, Black people and others, per the release.

Naloxone can be obtained at pharmacies and medical providers in the state. Obtaining it usually requires a prescription, but Washington state has a standing order that residents can present as a substitute for a prescription.

In addition to carrying naloxone, the DOH is asking people to familiarize themselves the signs of opioid overdose. Symptoms can include blue lips or ashy white lips on a person of color, blue fingernails, problems breathing and being unresponsive to external stimuli.

People can use fentanyl test strips on opioids but the DOH recommends users proceed with caution whatever the outcome and avoid consuming alone.