Peninsula overdose deaths seem to be on the rise

Drug overdose deaths appear to be climbing on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Clallam County seems on the verge of equalling, if not surpassing, drug-related fatalities for all of 2020 in the first three months and seven days of 2021.

Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner Mark Nichols said on April 9 that he is awaiting toxicology test results on eight potential overdose deaths through April 7, seven of which are considered probable drug-related fatalities because of evidence found at the scene and other factors.

All eight victims are 18 or older.

Jefferson County had three overdose deaths over the first three months of 2021, all from methamphetamine, a total equalling the same period in 2020, Laura Mikelson, prosecuting attorney-coroner’s office legal assistant, said last week.

But Mikelson is awaiting toxicology results from two more deaths that are classified as probably occurring from drug overdoses.

There were seven overdose deaths in Clallam County in 2020. They reached a high over the last 10 years of 19 in 2016, when the opioid-reversal drug Naloxone started being available to first-responders. It also became available to the general public.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the majority come back as overdoses,” Nichols said.

“It that’s true, we are looking at a really rocky year on the overdose front. It’s only April.”

Those on whom Nichols is awaiting toxicology test results include a 41-year-old homeless man identified last week by Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada as Patrick W. Loney, a longtime Port Angeles resident.

An acquaintance found Loney’s remains at about 2:45 a.m. on April 7 in a tent on an embankment under the deck of the Tumwater Truck Route bridge in Port Angeles.

Thirty-three drug users were revived with naloxone since 2015 in Port Angeles, according to police department statistics that do not include an unknown number of drug users who purchase the medication in case they overdose, Viada said.

Nichols said he may start tracking overdose deaths that involve the pain medication fentanyl, which is coming into greater use, Clallam County law enforcement officials say.

The synthetic opioid is often mixed with other drugs such as heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is sold in illegally manufactured form at a concentration 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

Naloxone can be less effective against fentanyl, according to drugabuse.gov.

Clallam County had the second highest drug-overdose death rate from 2012-2016, before Naloxone was widely distributed, according to state Department of Health 2018 Washington State Health Assessment.

Rates in Clallam, Grays Harbor, and Spokane counties exceeded the state’s rate. Jefferson County was slightly below the state rate.

“We started seeing Narcan and Suboxone convert fatalities into non-fatalities, and then we had fentanyl,” Nichols said.

“People have continued to use drugs and we are seeing more fentanyl, and that has driven up the number of overdoses is my suspicion of what’s happening.”

James Kennedy, Jefferson County prosecuting attorney-coroner, said one recent drug overdose fatality was discovered after the man at first appeared to die from natural causes.

A toxicology test was conducted out of an abundance of caution, Kennedy said, and it came back with elevated levels of methamphetamine.

“One thing we are seeing in Jefferson County is an uptick in meth overdoses,” Kennedy said last week.

“That’s the norm over on the I-5 corridor. We are seeing that more here now.”

Fentanyl use “is still prevalent” in Jefferson County, he added.

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