On Monday, Mar. 4, 2024, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a multi-part strategy across five priority areas to address the surge of fentanyl contributing to record overdose deaths in the region.

Strategies include expanded residential treatment for people with substance use disorders, a 24/7 buprenorphine prescribing line, new mobile crisis outreach teams, a permanent location for the sobering center, and increased distribution of naloxone and testing strips.

In 2023, King County served more than 30,000 people through MIDD, provided nearly 1,800 people with substance use disorder (SUD) residential treatment, added 22 walk-in buprenorphine sites and a mobile methadone van, helped more than 13,000 people receive Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), distributed 45,000 naloxone kits and over 100,000 fentanyl test strips, and trained hundreds of people on overdose prevention methods. King County’s Emergency Services Patrol responded to more than 22,000 calls and connected more than 6,500 people to shelter and the sobering center.

“Substance use disorder is complex, and there is not one single cause, nor one simple solution. That’s why King County is connecting people to treatment and lifesaving interventions that are proven to work, and clear paths to recovery for all,” Constantine said.“The increasingly dangerous drug supply across the state and nation, dominated by fentanyl, is contributing to a devastating increase in deaths. There is so much more to do, which is why King County is also working upstream to help prevent substance use disorder, inform and educate the community, elevate early intervention strategies, and provide services and treatment for anyone who needs it.”

The Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) and Public Health Seattle & King County are working in partnership to address the fentanyl crisis by expanding access to low-barrier treatment and bolstering existing efforts to prevent overdoses and reduce the harmful impacts of a toxic drug supply. The five priority areas for this work, include:

  • Treatment and community-based, recovery-focused care for all.
  • Behavioral health beds and facilities.
  • Overdose reversal medication and fentanyl testing.
  • A robust, diverse behavioral health workforce.
  • Reduced disproportionality in overdoses.

The actions range from new facilities, including the Pioneer Human Services co-occurring facility in south Seattle and the post-overdose recovery center in Downtown Seattle, to expanding mobile teams, outreach teams, and access to naloxone and testing strips. Actions will also focus on reducing overdoses in populations with disproportionately high rates including Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, and communities of color, and people living unsheltered.

Pioneer Human Services is part of the King County Integrated Care Network. The partnership with King County and the investments in the workforce through Medicaid rate increases makes this treatment program possible. This facility is the only co-occurring facility in King County that provides residential treatment for people with substance use and mental health disorders.

A recent report, requested by Councilmember Reagan Dunn, commissioned by DCHS, and created by Comagine reviewed service capacity gaps and needs of people with substance use disorders in the region. The report helped inform the five priority areas.

“Fentanyl is a poison that kills three people every day in King County. This is an unprecedented crisis that touches all kinds of people from all walks of life. It will take a collaborative, whole-of-government approach to reverse this surge in overdose deaths and protect future generations from the dangers of fentanyl,” Councilmember Dunn said. “I thank Executive Constantine for his ongoing partnership on providing more treatment and lifesaving interventions for those who need it. Recovery is always possible, and by working together we can help even more people find that recovery.”

“During the pandemic we led with science, with medical expertise and with facts, and because of that we had some of the best outcomes in the nation despite being the first area hit. We can do it again with this shadow pandemic of substance use disorder and behavioral health crisis. People are hurting and we see it every day on our streets. We know treatment works, and by prioritizing access to treatment, King County is leading with science, expertise, and compassion. The plan outlined today does all of that and will produce tangible results which is why I’m proud to be partnering with the Executive and my fellow councilmembers today,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.  

“Communities across our region desperately need more resources for mental health and substance use disorder treatment. Every year, we see record overdoses and mental health crises. These continue to increase at an alarming rate, creating a shadow pandemic that is robbing our neighbors and loved ones of their lives,” said Councilmember Girmay Zahilay. “Executive Constantine and I, along with our many partners in the County, are committed to responding to the critical intersection of behavioral health challenges and the increase of lethal opioids. Together, we championed the Crisis Care Centers initiative to address the lack of walk-in treatment available, and support our behavioral health workforce, who have faced extreme burnout and record vacancies. Today’s announcement is another step forward to increase access to treatment for King County residents. Everyone is deserving of empathy and respect, no matter what they are going through, and these resources will ensure we meet those in crisis with the dignity and urgency they deserve.”

These priority actions are funded by existing resources, including MIDD Behavioral Health Sales Tax, Crisis Care Centers initiative, Medicaid, commercial insurance, and state and federal funds.

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