Governor proposes more funding to fight fentanyl crisis

There have been 982 fentanyl-related drug deaths in King County so far this year.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Dec. 4 that he is proposing the addition of $50 million to the statewide budget to deal with the fentanyl crisis harming Washington state’s communities. Some of this funding would come from a recent settlement for $82 million with drug manufacturers and companies for their role in the nationwide opioid crisis.

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that is driving a spike in overdose deaths and complicating drug treatment.

The budget for combating fentanyl and opioid use in general takes a multi-pronged approach, including education and awareness, community health hubs, harm reduction and treatment access and recovery services.

The Federal Way Police Department reports that there have been 982 fentanyl-related drug deaths in King County this year.

This crisis touches the Federal Way community in many ways. Federal Way City Council President Linda Kochmar told The Mirror that her 21-year old granddaughter died three years ago after accidentally consuming what they believe to be a fentanyl pill. Their understanding is that she believed it was a milder painkiller. Kochmar also lost another family member to drug use and has seen firsthand the painful cycle of addiction, she said.

Kochmar shared how hard it is to find the right balance between providing resources and enabling someone to continue using. For her stepdaughter, Kochmar said at one point she was able to find housing, “but if you’re not getting treatment or expected to get treatment, it’s just saying, ‘oh, we’re here, we’re happy, we’ll give you a warm hug.’ It doesn’t work. Because then it enables them, which it did for her.”

Kochmar said the strategies should focus on education, starting with youth who are still in school. She also advocated for the need to “to catch them early on” in their addiction, “so we can get some treatment. That’s what we need. And treatment centers so we can get them.”

Others advocate for a harm reduction approach, as described by Gov. Inslee’s office, that outlines the harsh reality that “you can only recover from substance use disorder if you’re alive.”

Lifesaving emergency measures like administering the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone or providing someone with stable housing can give them a chance to seek treatment.

Treatment challenges

According to treatment providers in Federal Way, many suffering from substance use disorder are dealing with dependence on multiple substances that make detoxing and treatment difficult to support, even for medical professionals.

Fentanyl is “showing in places that are unexpected, like clients who only use meth test positive for fentanyl because it’s mixed in it,” Stanford Tran at Valley Cities told The Mirror. Other barriers like underlying mental health disorders, trauma, housing instability and lack of access to insurance also exacerbate the issue, Tran said.

Olivia Roe from outpatient treatment provider Ideal Option told The Mirror that they are seeing the same trend of mixed drug use, explaining: “Fentanyl is regularly mixed with other illicit drugs to make them more addictive, often without the user knowing, making the deadliest drug in the nation even deadlier.”

One of these illicit drugs is xylazine, referred to by the street name “tranq” for its property as a tranquilizer. Fentanyl is commonly laced with xylazine to prolong the high and has horrifying side effects, according to Ideal Option.

Many rehab centers also do not have the capacity to test for xylazine. Dependence on this substance has to be treated differently than dependence on fentanyl alone, and many users may not even be aware of what drugs they have become dependent on, according to an overview of xylazine from Ideal Option.

Ideal Option provides “office-based medication-assisted treatment for addiction to opioids, alcohol, and other substances,” according to their website, and has “over more than 250 addiction medicine providers and staff in 90+ outpatient clinics across 11 states,” including one in Federal Way.

Inslee’s proposed budget will add more support and access to programs like Ideal Option that provide medications for opioid use disorder (MOUDs).

Drug rings

On Aug. 16, fentanyl possession was recriminalized in Washington state. Since then, the Federal Way Police Department shared that officers have made 28 drug possession arrests, with a majority of those arrests being people in possession of fentanyl.

To combat the use of fentanyl in Federal Way, “police officers have taken an aggressive approach to the use of illicit drugs, with the ultimate goal of getting people into a drug treatment program,” according to a statement the department shared with The Mirror. “We understand the only way to combat this crisis is to get people help for their addictions. If a person is unwilling to seek treatment voluntarily, we hope the courts can set conditions for treatment for those who need it.”

Inslee’s budget addition will also add to law enforcement budgets “to disrupt drug rings infesting Washington communities.”

This month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that 10 members of a drug trafficking ring operating out of Pierce County were arrested. Two of these members are from Federal Way and are only 18 and 19 years old.

“These defendants are accused of trafficking over 150,000 lethal doses of fentanyl to communities in Western Washington and beyond,” said David F. Reames, Special Agent in Charge, DEA Seattle Field Division in a press release. “This poison will never reach its potential victims because of the cooperation between DEA and our law enforcement partners in this investigation.”

The Federal Way Municipal Court, with the support of South King County courts and police chiefs, recently submitted a grant application for funds for a Sequential Intercept Model Pilot Project, a regional resource and care network that will provide addiction and mental health treatment resources to cities at no cost to the city. In a statement from the FWPD, they shared that “once this program is established, we are hopeful it will further assist those in need of treatment.”