332 King County drug deaths in 2016 set record, UW reports

Opioid addiction and deaths persist; interventions continue to expand

Media Contact: UW Medicine: Brian Donohue - 206.543.7856, bdonohue@uw.edu
King County: James Apa - 206.263.8698, James.Apa@kingcounty.gov; or Sherry Hamilton - 206.263.9010, Sherry.Hamilton@kingcounty.gov 

Drug use caused the deaths of 332 King County residents in 2016, a new record, with opioid-involved overdoses accounting for more than two-thirds of those deaths, according to an annual report published today by the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

“Drug deaths and other severe consequences of substance use disorder persisted through 2016,” said Caleb Banta-Green, principal research scientist and the report’s lead author.  He works with federal, state, and local government representatives and community-based agency experts to produce the yearly reports, which detail drug trends in King County. Download the full 2017 report (PDF).

picture of Caleb Banta-Green, principal research scientist at the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.
Caleb Banta-Green is principal research scientist at the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

Overall county drug deaths rose from 320 in 2015. Opioids (legal and illegal) caused 219 deaths. Methamphetamine-involved deaths numbered 98, a dramatic increase from 20 such deaths recorded in 2011. Fentanyl, a potent painkiller now also made illicitly, and fentanyl-like drugs were implicated in 17 King County deaths last year.

“We have the tools to address substance-use disorder, but we need to do three things,” Banta-Green said.  “Increase understanding of substance-use disorders, which will reduce stigma and increase demand for treatment.  Develop simple, easy-to-use processes for connecting people to care when and where they can access it.  And ensure adequate treatment capacity.”

Other report findings:

  • Seattle city wastewater testing indicates very high levels of methamphetamine and marijuana relative to levels found in nations outside the United States. (Seattle is the only U.S. city participating in an international analysis.)
  • Heroin is the most common drug mentioned during calls to the Washington state Recovery Helpline among young adults, and second most common, after alcohol, for calls from people age 26 and older.
  • HIV infection risks remain high among men who have sex with men (MSM) who use methamphetamine and low among other people who inject drugs who are not MSM. Most people who inject drugs are infected with hepatitis C.
  • Syringe exchanges in King County distributed more than 7 million syringes in 2016 and, increasingly, naloxone (Narcan) kits, an antidote to opioid overdoses.
  • New, low-barrier programs began in 2016 to prescribe buprenorphine, a very effective prescription treatment medication for people with opioid-use disorder (involving heroin or pharmaceuticals). The initial programs reached capacity quickly, but services are anticipated to be expanded with newly awarded federal Cures Act funding.

“Our goal is to build treatment on-demand in King County” said Brad Finegood, assistant division director for King County’s Behavioral Health Recovery division. “Treatment works: It supports ongoing recovery, and opioid-use-disorder medications dramatically reduce fatal overdoses. We are working to develop treatment options in a broader range of locations.”

“This report highlights the terrible fact that drug overdoses continue to be a leading cause of death in our community” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health-Seattle & King County. "We all need to recognize addiction as the chronic medical condition it is, make treatment as easy to get as heroin is, and address barriers to recovery."

“We also need to look upstream with strategies like the “Best Starts for Kids” initiative that take steps to prevent the conditions that predispose young people to substance misuse and addiction in the first place,” he added.

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Tags:drug abuseopioids

UW Medicine