Public health officials say Spokane County appears to be mirroring the state trend for opioid overdoses.
The Washington Department of Health reported Tuesday that 418 people died from overdoses during the first quarter of 2021. That’s up from 378 during the first quarter last year.
Spokane Regional Health District officials say they also suspect that overdoses are increasing in the county, but they cite a different indicator.
Spokane health officials say they don’t have current overdose death numbers. But they do measure how often the overdose-reversing drug naloxone is used to save a life.
Samantha Carroll is an overdose prevention specialist at the health district. She’s part of the agency’s needle exchange program. Case workers regularly hand out naloxone kits to their clients.
“For lay persons, what we do is collect data when they get the kit. We collect baseline data. When they come for refills, we also collect data. Was it used for an overdose, etc.?” she said.
Carroll and her colleagues found that, in 2020, they distributed 1,400 naloxone kits. About a quarter, 345, were deployed to reverse overdoses. Between April and June of this year, they had 225 overdose reversals, about two-thirds of the figure for all of 2020.
“When this pandemic started, we were still right smack dab in the middle of an opioid epidemic and that never stopped," said Misty Challinor, the health district’s director of treatment services.
“Despite the pandemic and the restrictions it actually increased the rates of individuals self medicating, increased the use for all kinds of mental health issues and unresolved trauma, as well as new trauma that may have been stemmed from having all of the quarantine and the restrictions," she said.
Challinor and her colleagues suspect the worst of the epidemic, in this case, the opioid epidemic, is not over. They will continue to distribute naloxone to anyone who wants it, whether it be someone who uses drugs or someone who cares about a person who uses them.