Washington decriminalized drug use and possession following a ruling by the state Supreme Court that declared the state’s felony possession law unconstitutional in the landmark case known as the Blake Decision.
Following the decision, King County, Washington experienced an unprecedented rise in fentanyl overdose fatalities, leading to a shortage of storage space for the deceased, as reported by the local medical examiner.
During a recent meeting of the Board of Health, Dr. Faisal Khan, the Director of Seattle-King County Public Health, shared his thoughts and insights on the matter, saying, “The Medical Examiner’s Office is now struggling with the issue of storing bodies because the fentanyl-related death toll continues to climb. Obviously, they have finite space in the coolers they use and that space is now being exceeded on a regular basis.”
As of January 22, 2023, King County has already recorded 31 fatal fentanyl overdoses. In 2022, it documented 1,019 overdose fatalities, the highest number of overdose deaths ever seen in the area. Out of the 1,019 deaths in 2022, a staggering 686 were attributed to fentanyl.
Lawsuits filed in 2018 by Seattle and King County against major pharmaceutical companies revealed that a staggering 80% of the homeless population in the area suffer from substance abuse.
Despite being aware of this issue for years, local officials have unfortunately contributed to its worsening.
In the 2022 legislative session, state officials had the opportunity to tighten the possession law by adding the word “knowingly” to it, but instead, they made it a misdemeanor – a type of crime that is rarely enforced – effectively legalizing drug use.
According to King County’s November 2022 report, 70% of all confirmed overdose deaths in the county involved fentanyl, regardless of the victim’s housing status.
Despite distributing over 10,000 naloxone kits and 100,000 fentanyl test strips in 2022, Seattle and King County, Public Health faced a rise in both the number of opioid overdoses and overdose deaths.