Proposed team would work with those at risk of drug overdose

Increase of fentanyl has changed landscape in county, official says

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County public health office has proposed the establishment of a drug Overdose Review Team to better serve those in the county most at risk.

The team would be made up of a multidisciplinary group of people who already work with people at risk for drug overdose to provide increased access to resources for treatment.

Karissa McLane, public health nurse supervisor for Clallam County’s Health and Human Service Public Health Office, presented the idea to the Clallam County Board of Health on Tuesday.

“We put out a letter of interest to a handful of groups that were literally people from off the top of our heads that we thought would fit and be important team members for this effort,” McLane said.

“In the last week since we sent the letters, we’ve had nine agencies respond very positively,” she added, among them the Port Angles Police Department and Olympic Peninsula Health Services.

Overdose deaths

Clallam County has one of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the nation.

“As we are all abundantly aware, overdose fatalities are an issue that our county deals with potentially more starkly than a lot of other counties and states around the nation,” McLane said.

Clallam County has an overdose fatality rate of 25 per 100,000, while Washington state has a rate of 15.7 per 100,000. The national rate is 21.6 per 100,000.

“As you can see, we are higher than a lot of areas, and we continue to see deaths increasing,” McLane said. “Over the last year, we have seen a marked increase in overdose fatalities.”

These increased deaths could be attributed to a number of things, including the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to high rates of prescribing addictive pharmaceuticals and increases in fentanyl found in street drugs.

Fentanyl

Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said the increase of fentanyl-laced drugs in Clallam County has changed the behavior of users and how public health officials respond.

“We didn’t use to have fentanyl out here, so our overdose deaths were primarily prescription narcotics and heroin, and it’s really in the last few years that we’ve seen fentanyl show up, and it’s really dramatically changed the landscape for those who use (drugs),” Berry said.

“I think that partly because we didn’t have fentanyl for so long that people are using it not knowing they’re using it.”

Berry supports the creation of the overdose review team and believes it would work well with some of the services that Clallam County Public Health already provides, such as the free syringe clinic.

“We are hoping that this will augment some of our existing work and we are excited to move this forward,” she said.

“I am very proud that our department has continued to work on opioid overdose prevention and substance prevention throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Where many public health departments closed their syringe program, we have not,” she said.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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