Fentanyl Crisis Behind Record Homeless Death Toll in Seattle


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People living in homeless conditions in Seattle, Washington are dropping dead left and right, mostly thanks to fentanyl and its knack for causing sudden death by overdose.

Seattle Times reports that according to medical examiner records, a record-setting 310 people died while homeless in Seattle and throughout King County, Washington during 2022. Over half of those deaths, or 160 of them, are fentanyl overdose-related.

That means that fentanyl-related deaths amounted to more than accidents, natural deaths, homicide, suicide, pending, and undetermined deaths combined.

The number reflects a 65% jump over 2021 and an increase of over 100 people from the previous record set in 2018, with 195 deaths. The shocking numbers are alarming public health officials in the area. REACH is an organization in Seattle battling homelessness, providing people with meals, healthcare, and drug addiction tools.

“That’s just appalling,” Chloe Gale, policy and strategy vice president for REACH, told Seattle Times. An estimate of the scope of homelessness in the County last year found that 13,368 people were living outside.

Previously, in December 2020 the area set a recent record for the most people dying without housing in a single month, with 29 deaths. In 2021, 188 people experiencing homelessness died. 

Usually, it isn’t the cold that kills people who are living in homeless conditions. Examiners frequently found a combination of fentanyl and other drugs in the system of people who have overdoses, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The end is nowhere in sight for public health officials. “Maybe we’re plateauing at a really bad rate and maybe it’s going to get worse,” said Brad Finegood, who heads an opioid and overdose response for Public Health, “I don’t know when it’s going to stop.” 

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said despite the rise in overdoses, his administration is pushing to get more people indoors, working in collaboration with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. 

King County officials said they have recently directed Public Health – Seattle & King County to work with the county’s Department of Community and Human Services and the King County Regional Homeless Authority to help homeless service providers learn more about what’s working and what’s not working to lower the risk of fatal overdoses among people living in homeless conditions.

Last year, Public Health – Seattle & King County distributed over 10,000 naloxone kits, and about 100,000 fentanyl test strips in an effort to reduce deaths. The agency is continuing to promote public awareness campaigns for similar efforts regarding people experiencing homelessness.

Homeless Drug Addiction Efforts

The cannabis industry has gotten creative through the years with ways to do its part to help combat drug addiction involving powerful narcotics such as fentanyl.

Commissioners in Clark County, Nevada passed a resolution in 2019 allocating almost $1.8 million from the local commercial cannabis industry to help subsidize programs dedicated to providing assistance to the homeless. A little more than $930,000 of the earmarked money was provided to HELP of Southern Nevada’s rehousing services.

A California homeless shelter gained 100 new beds in 2019 thanks to donations from cannabis dispensaries in the Ventura County, California community. The five licensed dispensaries that contributed to the cause were Emerald Perspective, Hueneme Patient Collective, SafePort, Tradecraft Ventures, and SkunkMasters, which donated $17,500 of the $25,000 in donations that were raised. 

In the interest of harm reduction San Francisco, healthcare workers in 2020 administered limited amounts of certain substances such as cannabis and alcohol to people experiencing homelessness and addiction.

The San Francisco Department of Health said doing this actually helps keep the addicts in isolation and, thus, prevents the potential spread of COVID.



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