Health officials report ‘alarming’ number of fentanyl-related deaths in King County

SEATTLE — King County health officials are sounding the alarm.

They say so many people are dying from drug overdoses the county morgue is filled to capacity. The numbers are alarming.

More than 1,000 people in King County died from a drug overdose last year. On average, that’s nearly three deaths a day, double the body count from 2020.

Now the King County Medical Examiner is searching for additional space to accommodate those who died from an overdose.

The main culprit in these deaths is fentanyl. By one estimate, fentanyl is the cause of 70% of these deaths.

Even on the King County Medical Examiner, the very first case Tuesday was of a 33-year-old man who died in Seattle from fentanyl.

“It’s really quite stunning,” said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, an expert in opioid use disorder at the University of Washington Medical School.

He says those dying from illicitly manufactured fentanyl are all across King County.

“They’re men and women,” said Dr. Banta-Green. “They are young and old, while we have a much larger proportion who are under 30 than we ever saw with heroin or prescription-type opiates. So, we’re seeing a lot of young adults. We’re seeing it among African-American, Latinx populations. So, big changes, not just in terms of the numbers but really across our community.”

This shows what amounts to an explosion of deaths from alcohol and drug overdoses since 2020.

The number peaked at 1,000 last year. And now, not a whole month into the New Year, the number of deaths is closing in on 100.

We met this man after he said he was turned away from an opioid treatment facility because he appeared to already be high. And the crisis has hit him in other ways, too. He says his roommate recently overdosed and died.

The immeasurable toll of a deadly drug that is readily available on King County streets.

Here at the Medical Examiner’s office, they say they are using autopsy gurneys, working with funeral homes and looking for additional cooler space for the long term.

Dr. Banta-Green says all of this shows the need for more places to treat those who are addicted.