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Local News in Seattle: Structural Racism Blamed for 40% Spike in Drug Overdoses and Deaths

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: A heroin user displays a needle in a South Bronx neighborhood which has the highest rate of heroin-involved overdose deaths in the city on October 6, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Seattle Public Health has linked the rise in drug overdoses and deaths in Seattle and King County to structural racism, according to a statement by Sharon Bogan, a communications specialist at Seattle Public Health. The statement acknowledged that there was a 40% increase in overdose deaths between 2021 and 2022, with fentanyl being a key factor.


According to Bogan, the root causes of the crisis are structural and include economic insecurity, social isolation, criminalization of substance use, housing instability, and stigma. They will require long-term, systematic changes and resources at all levels to be addressed.


The Seattle Fire Department has reported a significant increase in overdose incidents over the past year, responding to over 5,200 patients with suspected overdoses compared to just 3,600 incidents the previous year, according to a tweet from the department on January 31, 2023.


In 2021, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state’s statute criminalizing drug possession was unconstitutional, effectively decriminalizing drug possession in the state. King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion believes that criminalizing drug use is not a solution and that jail cells do not cure addiction, based on a conversation with local KNKX Public Radio on January 25, 2023.


Addressing the root causes of the drug overdose crisis will require sustained effort and collaboration at all levels to effect long-term, systematic change, according to Seattle Public Health.

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