Chelan County Overdose Death Tapering Off, Still High
The number of drug overdose deaths are a major concern in Chelan County, but the surge in recent years is tapering off.
Numbers compiled by county coroner Wayne Harris show the high mark of 31 overdose deaths last year has fallen off by about a third so far in 2023.
Harris credits the drop to the work of the Columbia River Drug Task Force.
"They've taken thousands of fake oxycodone pills, which are little blue pills with the ‘M’ on them," said Harris. "And those are made with Fentanyl, and they've taken thousands of those pills off the street. I believe that's slowed down some of these overdoses."
Task Force detectives arrested an East Wenatchee man late last year who had 8,000 Fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone.
One detective said it was, by far, the most amount of fentanyl he's ever seized.
Despite an ease in overdose deaths this year, the spike in recent years is striking
According to Harris, there were four drug overdose deaths in both 2019 and 2020, mostly connected to Fentanyl. In 2021, the county had seven, with six caused by Fentanyl. The number increased by more than 400 percent in 2022 to 31 deaths, with 19 related to Fentanyl.
The availability of Narcan, or Naloxone, could be clouding the picture of drug overdoses. Narcan is now widely used in homes by private citizens to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.
Shawn Ballard of Ballard Ambulance in Wenatchee told KPQ News of a recent drug overdose death involving a man who had overdosed several times before, but died at home alone when there was no one to administer Narcan to him.
Harris says overdose deaths are occurring in people of all ages and both sexes.
Of the 12 he's confirmed so far in 2023, six were male and six were female, and ranged in age from 23 to 55 with all ages in between.
Harris says there's one factor that is consistent in overdose deaths - almost all who've died have been diagnosed with some type of mental illness, with bipolar disorder, ADHD, anxiety and depression being the most common conditions.
"The question we ask, are these drug induced mental illnesses, because most of the people we talk to that say they know these people that passed away, were normal in high school and were great people until they got involved in drugs," Harris said.
As far as the cause of overall deaths in Chelan County, Harris says drugs and suicide are the most common reasons.
He also says there's typically an uptick in recreational related deaths in the summertime because of the county's wide range of outdoor activities.