Editor’s Note: Bellingham Councilman reveals that drug overdoses increased by 20 (87 to 107 this year) in two weeks in the city…
The following is a letter to the editor from Justin Matheson, a fire commissioner in Jefferson County:
Justin Matheson is a Fire Commissioner and Chairman for Jefferson County Fire District #4, President of Jefferson County Fire Commissioners and Secretaries Association, a Firefighter/EMT-IV for Brinnon Fire Department, an EMT for the Jefferson County Search and Rescue Team, and a member of the Jefferson County EMS Council.
Opioid abuse and overdose death rates have gradually risen in the United States since the 1990s. In 2017, the
rampant deaths were declared an epidemic by the Trump administration. Then in 2020, COVID-19 swept the world, and overdose deaths skyrocketed to a record of more than 93,000. Unfortunately, those numbers have continued to climb, and in 2023 we are dealing with more bodies than we know what to do with. Synthetic fentanyl in the form of pills and powder is taking over Washington, and we do not have the resources to fight back.
The King County Medical Examiner is so overrun with overdose deaths that they have nowhere to put the bodies. In January alone, they have had over one fatal fentanyl overdose a day. As a result, bodies are being stored in morgues and funeral homes as they try to find a long-term solution to add capacity. And it’s expected to keep getting worse in 2023.
Part of the problem is the high number of people who are homeless. Last year Seattle had a record of 310 homeless deaths, a 65% increase from 2021, and fentanyl overdose was responsible for over half. But fentanyl’s reach goes much farther. A Public Health report showed that fentanyl was involved in 70% of the overdose deaths in King County in 2022. Even our children are not safe, as we saw when an 11-year-old girl was found to have acute fentanyl intoxication.
As a volunteer firefighter/EMT in South Jefferson County, I’ve seen these impacts to our county directly. And it’s only a matter of time to when the trends in Seattle override our EMS system. We need to act right now and put an end to the deaths. Our first responders and hospitals need resources. We must create effective treatment programs and address the rising homeless population. This would be possible if Washington would opt into the $26 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson. But our Attorney General (Bob Ferguson) has decided a drawn-out lawsuit is a better option. But how many lives will we lose in the process?
We need the money now so we can prevent more deaths. It’s time for Washington lawyers to stop trying to shift blame and line their pockets. They need to put lives first. Opt in Washington, and let’s start dealing with the problem now.