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.