Megan Tripp, Project Manager
In 2022, North Sound ACH partnered with the Department of Health for a pilot project aimed at getting naloxone into the hands of people in the community. The need for community naloxone distribution is greater now than it ever has been before. Over the past 15 years, opioid overdose deaths in the North Sound region have increased by over 126%, with a particularly rapid increase starting in 2020. San Juan, Skagit, and Snohomish counties have each seen an increase of nearly 150% in opioid overdose deaths.
In an attempt to begin to address this crisis, we have supplied 105 kits of nasal naloxone spray (Narcan) to community partners, who in turn have distributed 44 kits to the people they serve. Each kit contains two doses of naloxone, which means we have gotten 88 potentially lifesaving doses of naloxone into our communities! Program participants have also reported training 48 people on overdose response and naloxone administration. Unfortunately, this program was limited by the funding available to DOH, and that funding has been depleted. We are actively seeking alternative sources for these life-saving supplies while we wait to hear from DOH about renewed funding.
One of the organizations working with North Sound ACH is Health Ministries Network, an interfaith nonprofit which supports health ministry and works with faith community nurses (FCNs) in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan counties by promoting preventive health care, health equity and spiritual well-being. Following a recent local health fair where Narcan was offered to community members, Executive Director Sarah Lane, shared with us,
It was lovely to sit down with folks and have thoughtful conversations about Narcan distribution. As we let folks know that this was available, some felt called to tell us their recovery stories. Others wanted to tell us that this was a futile effort—and we could hold space for good discussion.And others quietly came inside, learned, took the Narcan and know we are there for them, wherever they find themselves.”Sarah Lane
Fentanyl Awareness Day
The U.S. Senate passed a resolution declaring May 10, 2022 the first National Fentanyl Awareness Day in response to the increased impact of fentanyl in the opioid epidemic, and the sharp increase in overdose deaths over the past two years. The CDC estimates that as many as 107,000 people in the U.S. died as a result of drug overdose between November 2020 and November 2021, and an estimated 66% of those deaths are attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an FDA-approved synthetic opioid used legally for pain management and, according to the CDC, is “50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.” Because of its potency, illicit drug manufacturers have used fentanyl to create stronger, more addictive drugs more cheaply. Fentanyl is increasingly being found in counterfeit prescription pills (fake pills falsely marketed as prescription opioids, anti-anxiety medications, ADHD medications, etc.), cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, and many people taking these substances are unaware they are also ingesting fentanyl. The presence of fentanyl in other drugs cannot be identified by appearance, smell, or taste; it can only be detected using fentanyl test strips.
Opioid overdose and equity
The opioid epidemic was put in motion in 1996 with the introduction and FDA approval of OxyContin as a “minimally addictive” pain reliever.1 For many years after that introduction, opioid use disorder and overdoses disproportionately affected white communities due to racialized opioid regulation, marketing, and prescription rates.2 Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) patients were frequently denied opioid prescriptions to manage their pain due to racial bias in the medical community. However, more recent data suggests a shift in who is most affected by opioid use disorder and overdose deaths. A study published in March 2022 showed that while all racial and ethnic groups had an increase in rates of overdose deaths in 2020, the increase was greatest in Black and brown communities.3 The mortality rate was highest in American Indian/Alaska Native populations, and the largest increase in the mortality rate was in the Black community. Previous studies have shown a correlation between frequency of opioid use and social determinants of health, including level of education, housing stability, and employment status.4 The inequality already faced by BIPOC communities further underscores the racial justice issues embedded in the opioid epidemic today, and the need to respond equitably.
What can I do?
Feeling overwhelmed or hopeless when faced with these facts is very real, but there are ways you can help.
- Educate yourself on who is susceptible to opioid overdose – it is not only a risk for people with opioid use disorder or substance use disorder, but can happen to anyone taking opioid medications or illicit drugs.
- Fentanyl testing strips can be ordered online and should be used to test any substance that was not obtained at a pharmacy or dispensary.
- Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of fentanyl and other opioid overdose:
- Loss of consciousness
- Slow or stopped breathing
- Gray or bluish pallor to the skin in light-skinned individuals; ashy skin in darker-skinned individuals
- Constricted pupils (looks like a pinpoint)
- Overdoses caused by fentanyl may strike more suddenly, and require additional doses of naloxone to reverse.
- Carry naloxone and know how to use it. Naloxone can be purchased at many pharmacies without a prescription, and the cost may be covered by insurance.
- Advocate for additional funding from the state to continue vital naloxone distribution programs and fentanyl testing programs.
- Products – vital statistics rapid release – provisional drug overdose data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm. Published May 11, 2022. Accessed June 10, 2022.
- Hansen H, Netherland J. Is the Prescription Opioid Epidemic a White Problem?. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(12):2127-2129. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303483
- Friedman JR, Hansen H. Evaluation of Increases in Drug Overdose Mortality Rates in the US by Race and Ethnicity Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Psychiatry. 2022;79(4):379–381. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.0004
- Albright DL, Johnson K, Laha-Walsh K, McDaniel J, McIntosh S. Social Determinants of Opioid Use among Patients in Rural Primary Care Settings. Soc Work Public Health. 2021;36(6):723-731. doi:10.1080/19371918.2021.1939831