The youngest victims: Washington sees rise in fentanyl poisonings, deaths in kids

TACOMA, Wash. — It’s the call for help children can’t make for themselves. And when it does come, it’s often too late.

Fentanyl exposure killed a 5-year-old girl in Ferndale in March. Her parents and another adult were charged for putting her in danger.

We know the number of fentanyl deaths is exploding. Now, we know more about the youngest victims.

The state records fentanyl deaths by age group. The youngest is under 14. In 2021, two young kids died from fentanyl exposure. In 2022, it increased by more than five times that: 11 young kids were killed, and many more came very close, including one case that terrified parents in the South Sound last August.

We now have the police reports and 911 calls that reveal what happened.

“My 2-year-old, we had him at the park and he ingested something,” the boy’s mother said in a call to 911.

Tacoma Police Officer Masyih Ford rushed to the scene after what was reported at Oakland Madrona Park.

“I picked it up off the ground, I don’t know what it is. He’s sick, he’s very sick, he’s lethargic,” the mother said.

When Ford arrived, the toddler was turning blue. His body cam video showed what happened next.

He asked about the pill.

“Was it white and powdery?”

“No. It’s like blue,” the mother said.

“He needs Narcan! It’s fentanyl,” Ford told medics at the scene.

Half of the pill was left.

“She said he found it on the ground,” a man with the mother told a medic.

Paramedics revived the child. A relieved Officer Ford spoke with KIRO 7 the next morning.

“When I heard that call come out, my heart absolutely dropped,” said Ford.

But more of those calls are coming in Washington. The Washington Poison Center says in 2021, they got reports of nine children under 6 years old with fentanyl poisoning.

The next year, there were 31, and they say there are likely many, many more cases they never hear about.

That includes baby Jasper in Aberdeen.

His parents, Krista Eastman and Cody Chase, have battled addiction that reached 60 pills a day between them.

“It’s still hard, you know, being clean,” said Chase. “I could get them for 50 cents apiece.”

But they’re still unsure of the real cost. They have quit and relapsed, most recently when Eastman was pregnant with Jasper, their second son.

“There would be people who would hear that and say, ‘You were pregnant. How could you do that?’” asked KIRO 7′s Monique Ming Laven.

“I knew it was the stupidest thing to do. But when you’re an addict, you’re an addict, and you honestly really can’t help it,” said Eastman.

Since November, they’ve gotten clean and gotten custody.

“Obviously, it’s always going to be hard to say no and not relapse and all that. But (my children are) my reasons not to. And I’m done,” said Eastman.

But nervously, they monitor for signs of problems with Jasper.

Dr. Chris Buresh researches opioid use disorder.

“How long do you think it will be before we do know more about the effects on children and development?” asked Ming Laven.

“Certainly, I think if you’re talking about kids exposed prenatally, it could be still decades, honestly,” said Buresh.

He is also an ER physician at Harborview Medical Center.

“I would have at least one or two overdoses a shift, but sometimes six or seven maybe,” he said.

But the problem is so much bigger than what makes it to the hospital.

“We’re just seeing a tiny slice of what’s happening out there,” said Buresh.

Especially for kids. Doctors can save them. Protecting them is tougher.

It turns out nurses say after the 2-year-old’s mother arrived at the hospital, she went into the restroom for several minutes. Then, they saw her “hunched over, leaning forward in the chair… possibly under the influence of a drug,” a report from the Tacoma Police Department said.

This all happened while the city was sweeping the park for any other possible fentanyl pills, but the police report revealed the danger wasn’t at the park.

In a recovered email, the mother wrote to her coworkers and said that her son got into something at their apartment.

Officers later reported recovering signs of drugs there.

The boy survived, but his parents still lost him. The state took custody.

The mother has been charged with obstructing and providing false statements to police.

While Washington doesn’t keep specific statistics on how many parents have lost custody of their kids due to fentanyl addiction, we know the great majority of fentanyl hospitalizations, overdoses and deaths are in people of childbearing and child-raising years.

And those numbers keep getting higher.