Local first responders and police work to combat fentanyl overdoses

Opioid-related overdoses have doubled from 2019 to 2021

Counterfeit blue percocet pills like these often contain or are laced with fentanyl and are at the center of this epidemic (Posted by Ellensburg Police Department Facebook page)

Counterfeit blue percocet pills like these often contain or are laced with fentanyl and are at the center of this epidemic (Posted by Ellensburg Police Department Facebook page)

Omar Benitez, Contributor

Four to six minutes. That’s all the time EMS teams have to try to prevent permanent brain damage in a person who is overdosing on fentanyl and has stopped breathing, according to Rich Elliot, deputy chief of Kittitas Valley Fire & Rescue. 

Once the clock reaches 10 minutes after someone has overdosed, they are brain dead and there is nothing anyone can do for them. 

The city of Ellensburg is on pace to see a doubling in the number of narcotic opioid-related overdoses this year, and fentanyl continues to take lives in the community. According to Elliot, the total number of first responder/EMS calls involving narcotic opioids has risen from 12 in 2019 to 24 in just the first 10 months of 2021. Six Ellensburg residents have died of fentanyl-related overdoses this year.

That figure is likely to rise, particularly with a synthetic opioid as potent as fentanyl so easily accessible. Local officials are working to address the situation through treatment, prevention and awareness.


Captain Dan Hansberry of the Ellensburg Police Department said the community started to see an increase of fentanyl about a year ago. The problem has been widespread elsewhere in the United States, and the drug is coming “largely over the southern border from Mexico.”

According to Hansberry, fentanyl is now being packaged in small blue counterfeit pills, which are sold for as low as $15 to $20, as well as in powder form. 

“They think they’re buying Percocet, and they don’t know what they’re buying is a counterfeit. It’s made to look like Percocet, but it has an unknown, unmeasured amount of fentanyl, and so just one of those pills can be deadly,” Hansberry said. 

And that’s the real danger of fentanyl – just how much the potency can vary from pill to pill.

“The real main point that we’ve wanted to get out there is it just takes one pill. This isn’t overdosing on alcohol, where it potentially takes large volumes, or any other drug,” Hansberry said. “The potency levels are so unknown, and one pill can have such a different potency than another pill that really one pill could be all that it takes.”

For someone who is looking to experiment with drugs, the dangers of an overdose or drug-related death are very high with fentanyl, Hansberry said. 

The effects of fentanyl must be counteracted quickly. According to Elliott, on fentanyl overdose calls, people often need to be resuscitated in a “relatively short window” using Narcan. They often bring along law enforcement for back-up in case the situation gets violent.

“Sometimes we don’t fix the problems, and that’s horrible,” Elliott said, especially in cases of young people and teenagers whose parents have to then be notified.

With such a small window to realize something is wrong and get help, awareness may be the most essential thing community members can have in helping prevent drug-related deaths. Being aware of the dangers of fentanyl, but more importantly acting when someone is in danger of overdosing, could potentially save your life or the life of a friend or loved one. 

After treatment, a person who has overdosed can go back into respiratory arrest or try to self-medicate once the Narcan wears off. That’s why it’s important to get people who have overdosed to the emergency room, even if they’ve been resuscitated. 

“There are no criminal consequences to an overdose,” or to calling 911 for help, Elliott noted.

Prevention & Awareness

The rise of opioids in a community can have certain effects, including addiction. Addiction to opioids can be a very hard thing to overcome, so people need to know that they are not alone, that there are programs and resources available to them to help aid them in recovery, Hansberry and Elliott said.

The latest numbers and trends suggest that the issue could worsen before it improves. “I think it’s going to get worse in our community,” Elliott said. “I hope it gets better, and there are lots of people trying to make it better. But this is not this is not a safe drug to mess around with.” 

For both Elliot and Hansberry, it’s important that the community is well-informed and offers support to those in need in order to prevent any more deaths. Officials have also been getting educational resources into schools and hosting talks, like one last week at Morgan Middle School. 

“Unfortunately, through the deaths of these six people that have died just this year, the community is now aware of it,” Hansberry said. 

“I am very hopeful that that’s going to make an impact.”

Help is Available 

A 24-hour crisis line – 509.925.4168

Recovery advocate Dr. David Douglas – 509.306.9910

Treatment /detox. CMH – 509.925.9861

Substance use disorders. Merit – 509.925.9821