Access to fentanyl testing strips expands as overdoses spike
Washington saw the highest increase of drug overdose deaths of anywhere in the nation year-over-year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Evergreen State witnessed 25.3% more deaths in March of 2023 (2,938) than in March of 2022 (2,351).
Although the CDC cautioned that many overdose deaths go unreported, the provided data indicates that no state came close to matching Washington’s percentage rise in drug overdose deaths.
The primary driver for the spike is fentanyl, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Officials advise that the substance is often concealed in pills that resemble another drug.
Seeking to address the crisis, earlier this month the state expanded access to fentanyl testing strips, which can warn people if the pills they are about to consume contain the deadly narcotic.
King County says that it is working to offer the strips “wherever there are individuals at risk of overdosing.” Test strips are also available for free in vending machines at Peer Seattle and Peer Kent.
COVID hospitalization rates on the rise statewide
Rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased statewide since June, tracking with a summer surge nationwide.
Hospitalizations in Washington have risen 4% between June and early August, with rates of those hospitalized due to COVID currently at 2.3 per 100,000 people. In July, the average hospitalization rate was 1.8 per 100,000 people.
While cause for concern, Washington’s increased hospitalization rate trails that of the national rise of 17% during the same time frame.
The CDC says that a new variant of the virus, EG.5, is now the most dominant strain nationwide. However, it says it remains unclear how much the new variation has played a factor in the rising numbers.
Nation and statewide hospitalizations remain significantly below their pandemic-era peaks. Last month, they were down 82% year-over-year in both cases.
While masks are no longer publicly mandated in King County or Seattle, the CDC continues to recommend them as an effective way for people to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
Seattle’s air worst in major cities
As wildfires burned across the Pacific Northwest, on Aug. 20 Seattle experienced the worst air quality levels amongst major cities worldwide.
The morning of that day, Seattle’s air quality index reached a 105 rating, a level deemed “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”
These groups include people with lung disease such as asthma, older adults, children, teenagers and people experiencing homelessness.
Read more of the Aug. 23-29, 2023 issue.