NARCAN saves lives

NIcholas Tucker, News Editor

Between Oct. 17 and 18, Ellensburg police officers responded to two overdoses within 16 hours. In both cases, officers recognized that the overdoses were related to opioids and were able to provide emergency medical attention to the victims before transporting them to the Kittitas Valley Hospital for further treatment. 

Illustration by Kyle Wilkinson

Kittitas County has been relatively lucky regarding the opioid crisis. According to the Kittitas County Public Health Department, Kittitas County has the fifth lowest rate of death due to drug overdoses in the state, tying with Whatcom and Chelan counties. According to Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue (KVFR) Deputy Chief Rich Elliot, this impacts the training focuses for first-responders.

“Opioids are not a primary issue in this community in terms of substance abuse or misuse,” Elliot said. “It is by far alcohol, which is by far the most dangerous, most damaging and deadly drug.”

However, Elliot also said that Kittitas County hasn’t been unaffected by the opioid crisis. National trends do apply here, with a noticeable increase in overdoses after 2012. 

“Last year was a high for us for heroin and opioid use,” Elliot said. “We had 12 heroin overdoses in 2018, seven and more for the same person. So we actually had six different people overdose on heroin.”

While the number of overdoses happening in this community is relatively low, Kittitas County first-responders are equipping themselves to fight any emergences of the opioid epidemic.

The two most recent cases make now five instances in 2019 where first-responders used NARCAN, an overdose-reversing drug that can be administered as a nasal spray. NARCAN can be bought at most pharmacies, often for under $30 depending on insurance, and luckily the overdoses it works for include those caused by fentanyl.

Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and, until recently, was almost only seen in hospitals as a powerful pain reliever that was prescribed in severe circumstances. After 2013, though, it exploded onto the black market, with overdose deaths increasing by almost 47% from 2016 to 2017. Fentanyl is so dangerous that law enforcement and first responders often have to carry additional NARCAN for themselves in case they come into contact with stray traces of the powder.

Both Kittitas and Yakima counties have been dealing with Fentanyl causing overdoses when cut into drugs like heroin and cocaine. It’s incredibly difficult to detect without sensitive testing kits, and visually appears almost identical to the white powder forms of many drugs.

According to Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice, nine people have died from ingesting Fentanyl so far this year.

“I think they’ve been around, the synthetic pills, but I just think there was a bad batch that got into the area,” Curtice said.