Public Health warning those who use illicit drugs to take extra care after reported uptick in overdoses

See update for 1/18/19

Original post on 1/17/19:

Public Health – Seattle & King County is warning people who use illicit drugs to take extra care and not to use drugs alone. The warning comes after seven overdoses were reported in the north area of Seattle today, January 17th. According to first responders on scene, some victims reported injecting heroin and others snorting a crushed pill that may have been fentanyl. There were no immediate fatalities. Six of the seven individuals were transported to area hospitals for care.

Public Health – Seattle & King County is closely monitoring the situation and will continue to track reported overdoses. At this point, we do not have confirmed information about the type of drugs consumed.

“Tragically, drug overdoses are not uncommon in our community. Yet, seven overdoses in a limited time period could indicate a particularly strong and lethal batch of drugs that the users were not suspecting”, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for King County. “It’s important to have naloxone on hand if you are using drugs.”

Public Health – Seattle & King County is advising people who use drugs to follow these steps to reduce the likelihood of overdose.

  • Have naloxone ready. You can get naloxone at needle exchanges and other community sites. Visit http://stopoverdose.org/section/find-naloxone-near-you/.
  • Do not use alone
  •  Start low and go slow: Powders, pills and heroin may be contaminated with fentanyl that can kill rapidly. Start with a small amount and watch and wait before the next person uses.
  • If you suspect an overdose, call 911 right away. The Good Samaritan Law protects you and the person overdosing from drug possession charges. More information on the Good Samaritan Law is available at http://stopoverdose.org/section/good-samaritan-law/
  • Seek treatment for drug use disorder to help stop using drugs – call the Washington Recovery Hotline for treatment resources. 1-866-789-1511 (www.warecoveryhelpline.org).

If you suspect an overdose

  • Call 911 immediately and administer naloxone. Naloxone is a fast-acting drug that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. When in doubt – administer naloxone. Naloxone is not harmful if given to someone who is not experiencing an overdose. Naloxone is a short acting drug and a person can go back into overdose so be sure to monitor the person for several hours after naloxone has been administered.
  • When you call 911, be sure to explain what is happening exactly. Dispatch will send resources based on the anticipated need. Stay on the line.
  • While waiting for medical help to arrive, if the victim is not breathing, someone needs to breathe for the victim. A majority of overdose deaths are due to respiratory failure, so rescue breathing is critical and rescue breaths will help the person survive. Give mouth-to-mouth breathing to the victim every five seconds until emergency services arrive. CPR may be necessary if no pulse is detected.
  • Driving someone to the ER is not recommended. In cases of respiratory failure, someone can die in the time it takes to get to an ER.
  • If someone dies as the result of a suspected drug overdose please call 911 to report the death.

Originally published January 17, 2019

6 thoughts on “Public Health warning those who use illicit drugs to take extra care after reported uptick in overdoses

  1. I think it is great to be spreading information on what to do if you suspect an overdose and to also warn people about how to reduce the likelihood of an overdose. I wonder how various safe injection sites are spreading this information. I also wonder how effective this spreading of information has been and will be in Seattle/King County. It is hard to track the effectiveness of campaigns due to people having various other inputs of information, as well as behavior changes. Thank you for this great, informative article!

    1. I would also like to add, that while some people are concerned for increased drug use, safe injection sites and increased information about drug use lower the risk of death from drug use (1). Providing clean needles and needle disposal locations are important to limit the spread of various diseases to both drug users and the public.

      (1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29927810

  2. I am a taxpayer in King County. I am appalled by these directives that encourage the increase and proliferation of illegal drugs in our county. There is no “safe” way to take illegal drugs. By telling people that they can avoid potential death by having naloxone on hand simply encourages people to take more drugs which ultimately lead to an INCREASED risk of death. Suggesting that people should have others join them in using drugs indicates that officials are working to increase illegal drug usage in King County. Why are my tax dollars being used to increase drug addiction and drug deaths in the County?

  3. It is great to spread this kind of awareness as some people really do benefit from this harm-reduction style of blogging. We obviously can’t force people to stop taking drugs, so giving them helpful resources if something unintended happens can be a great way to reduce possible harms! I am however interested in other ways of reducing opioid deaths that promote abstinence from illegal drugs, as I believe we need a wide array of different interventions to solve this problem. I agree this harm-reduction model is beneficial for a lot of people, but I think there is also people who can benefit from a different kind of model.

    There have been a lot of people, including some people I know, who have successfully gotten off these drugs and avoided the painful withdrawals that are a barrier for many people by using a much safer 100% natural alternative called kratom for a while. Unfortunately even though this solution works for a lot of people trying to get off opioids, the FDA is working to ban it as we speak. Conveniently, at the same time big Pharma is now trying to profit from this by making a synthetic version which has not been well researched and could have many side effects unlike the natural kratom. I feel like Public Health should put a focus on doing more research on the safety of kratom, and also do more advocacy as a lot of people are unaware of the benefits this herb can have for people trying to get off hard opioids.

  4. I think it is so important to take a harm reduction approach to illicit drug use. Harm reduction approaches receive a lot of backlash because they seem to enable or encourage people performing illegal behaviors. However, these methods don’t normalize or approve the behavior, but rather accepts that people do it and provides safe care. We’ve seen in the past that abstinence and stigmatization strategies are ineffective at addressing drug addiction. For example, Nixon’s “War on Drugs” and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign proved to be wildly ineffective. Instead, we need to de-stigmatize drug users and provide them with judge-free environments that allow them to get connected to therapeutic resources when they are ready. It is crucial to recognize that drug users aren’t choosing to become addicts, but rather suffer from past trauma or mental health issues. Until they are able to deal with it, they aren’t going to get better. In the meantime, we as a community can offer places (such as needle exchanges and safe-injection sites) that help reduce risks and listen to their needs. Health care is a human right and everyone deserves help, including drug users. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Sharon,
    Reading both this original post and the updated post (1/18/2019) by James Apa, I believe King County and Washington State need a harm-reduction approach is needed now more than ever; especially considering the spike of overdoses that have occurred in our community. As a public health and psychology student, I have a passion for learning new strategies to destigmatize drug users and rather educate users and non-users on how we can effectively reduce the impact of drug-related deaths in our area. As an example, movements like Amber’s HOPE (Heroin, Opiate Prevention and Education), was started by local parents and peers of a Lake Washington student who overdosed during her high school years. Amber’s HOPE, while not widely known, is an important step in providing education around opiate use, in addition to providing resources in the case of individuals wanting to go into recovery. In addition, Safe Seattle is another resource that provides access to live-saving interventions like naloxone distribution. On the other hand, past movements like DARE and the aspect of “scaremongering” have not been successful in preventing drug use in teenagers and young adults due to the wide inaccuracy of the data used in advertisement and education practices in schools. Overall, by having individuals who are affected by drug use utilize resources like Safe Seattle and Amber’s HOPE, I hope this will start a narrative to not only destigmatize drug users, but also begin a possible path to drug sobriety, or at the least smarter drug use. Thank you so much for sharing this article and knowledge, I hope to hear from you and other subscribers!

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