This City in Washington Has Been Named the Drug Overdose Capital of the State


Drug overdose deaths are a major public health issue in the United States, affecting millions of people and their families. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than 93,000 individuals died from drug overdoses in 2020, the highest number ever recorded.

The COVID-19 epidemic exacerbated the situation, with many people experiencing heightened stress, isolation, and disruptions to treatment and harm reduction programs.

While the opioid crisis has affected every state in the country, some have been hurt worse than others. From 2019 to 2021, the rate of drug overdose deaths in Washington state surged by more than 66 percent, topping 2,000 in a single year. Among Washington’s counties, Spokane is the most afflicted by the drug issue.

Spokane: The Drug Overdose Capital of Washington

Spokane is Washington’s second-largest city, with a population of around 222,000 people. It is located in the eastern section of the state, close to the Idaho border. Spokane is recognized for its natural beauty, cultural variety, and economic opportunity. However, it is also dealing with a severe problem of drug addiction and overdose.

According to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), Spokane County had the state’s highest incidence of drug overdose deaths in 2020, with 51.4 deaths per 100,000 persons. This figure is more than double the state average of 24.9 fatalities per 100,000 people and greater than any other county in Washington. Spokane County also had the most drug overdose deaths in absolute terms, with 291 fatalities in 2020.

The availability of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more strong than heroin, is the primary cause of Spokane’s overdose issue. Fentanyl is frequently combined with other substances, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and counterfeit medications, without the user’s awareness.

This raises the danger of overdose, as even a small quantity of fentanyl may be fatal. In 2020, fentanyl was implicated in 72 percent of drug overdose deaths in Spokane County, up from 18% in 2019.

Spokane County has also experienced an increase in the usage of methamphetamine, a stimulant substance that can induce paranoia, psychosis, and cardiac issues. Methamphetamine was implicated in 59% of all drug overdose deaths in Spokane County in 2020, up from 46% in 2019. Methamphetamine and fentanyl are frequently taken together, resulting in a hazardous combination that can overload the body’s systems.

What is Being Done to Address Spokane’s Overdose Crisis?

The drug overdose pandemic in Spokane is a complicated and diverse issue that necessitates a thorough and coordinated response from all stakeholders. Some of the initiatives being done or proposed to prevent and minimize drug overdose deaths in Spokane include:

Expanding access to naloxone, a medicine that can treat opioid overdoses. Since 2019, the Department of Health has delivered over 20,000 doses of naloxone to first responders, community groups, and persons at risk of overdose in Spokane County. The DOH also launched the “Prevent Overdose WA” campaign, which offers information and tools on obtaining and administering naloxone.

Increasing the availability of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which combines behavioral therapy with drugs like buprenorphine or methadone, to aid persons with opioid use disorder. The DOH has financed some programs to increase MAT availability in Spokane County, including the Hub and Spoke model, which connects primary care practitioners with specialized addiction treatment facilities.

Improving data collecting and analysis for drug overdose mortality. The DOH has created a new Unintentional Drug Overdose Data dashboard that includes detailed information about the characteristics and circumstances of each overdose death, such as the type and source of drugs used, the location and setting of the death, and the decedent’s demographic profile. This information can assist in identifying trends, gaps, and areas for intervention and prevention.

Supporting harm-reduction methods including syringe exchange programs, safe consumption areas, and drug testing services. These techniques seek to limit the negative effects of drug use, such as infection, sickness, and overdose while avoiding abstinence or judgment.

Spokane County offers one of the state’s oldest and biggest syringe exchange programs, serving over 3,000 individuals annually and offering clean syringes, wound care, testing, and referrals. Other harm reduction programs, including as safe consumption places and drug testing, are not yet accessible or authorized in Spokane County.


Spokane, Washington, is facing a significant drug overdose problem, with a mortality rate of 51.4 per 100,000 people in 2020, more than double the state average. Fentanyl, a strong synthetic opioid, is a key contributor to the problem, accounting for 72% of overdose deaths.

The rise in methamphetamine usage exacerbates the problem. Efforts to fight the epidemic include naloxone distribution, medication-assisted treatment programs, improved data analysis, and funding for harm reduction projects.

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