Thurston County sees steep increase in fentanyl overdose deaths


Thurston County Narcotics Task Force (TNT) reported overdose death by fentanyl is consistently rising, with 114 cases recorded in 2022.

During the Tuesday, March 14 Board of Health meeting, County Coroner Gary Warnock said his office has seen a significant spike in overdose death from 2019 to 2022.

In 2019, there were 47 confirmed overdose deaths, 10 of those involved fentanyl.

In 2020, he said they recorded 57 confirmed overdose deaths, 17 were fentanyl-related or a combination of multiple drugs with fentanyl as the common denominator.

In 2021, there were 102 confirmed overdoses, 51 of those were fentanyl-related deaths.

In 2022 with 147 confirmed overdose deaths, 114 were fentanyl-related. (Warnock updated the number of overdose deaths to 153 during his presentation). He said the number will fluctuate because they still have pending cases.

The 147 cases comprised of:

  • Males – 109 (ages between 18-77)
  • Females – 37 (ages between 0-72)
  • Gender Neutral – 1 (age 24)

Two of the females were infants who died from overdose, Warnock noted.

Warnock cited autopsy reports which showed that 90% of this death resulted from fentanyl intake.

"This has taken a lot of resources from my office. It boils down to expenses. In every case we bring in for the overdose death, the person is a candidate for autopsy. There is a lab cost," said Warnock, adding that resources are being spent on the influx of the caseload, which he said are 100% preventable.

TNT Commander Lt. Tim Rudloff reported that opiate cases continue to increase, as 60% of drug cases they have been working on are opiate-related.

He said the task force had not seen any downtrend of opiate cases since 2019.

"From our perspective, fentanyl is number one on the street. It is the number one addictive drug out there. It's what's causing us the problem," Rudloff said.

Rudloff noted the number of cases and overdoses has increased since simple drug possession laws disappeared. "If you take away every bit of the incentive for that addictive individual to seek recovery, you have lessened your chances. It did not help us."

County Sheriff Derek Sanders mentioned that the lack of available rehabilitation for people with substance abuse issues is one of the challenges in fighting against the drug problem.

Warnock added that synthetic opioid is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and highly addictive. He claimed it is present in numerous drugs – methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, and counterfeit pills. "Many users don't know they're purchasing fentanyl which results in suicide deaths."

How the drugs make their way to the US

According to Warnock, synthetic opioids come from China. 

He said there are crude laboratories in Mexico, which he said are cow pastures, where people mix the opiods with other illicit drugs. It sold as heroin or pressed into counterfeit prescription pills, like Xanax, Oxycodone and Adderall.

"Then it gets into the United States through Canada and Mexican borders," he added.

Warnock said people unfamiliar with medications or the pills would be unable to tell if the medicine is fake or real. He added that illicit substances are color-coded to make them look like candy and appeal to the younger generation. It is administered by injection, ingestion, or smoking.

The coroner warned that overdose deaths would continue and keep climbing in 2023.

"Fentanyl is not going anywhere anytime soon. They are finding new ways to get it across the border," Warnock said.

Warnock informed that thare is a new drug called Xylazine, a horse tranquilizer laced with fentanyl, which they have seen coming from the north and the south.

According to Rudloff, the Sheriff's Office will continue to pursue ideas to combat the opioid epidemic, including:

  • Adopting an overdose death investigation check list to improve the potential to pursue illegal drug homicide cases related to opiate crisis.
  • Promote partnerships with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in pursuit of bringing additional law enforcement staffing to TNT.
  • "We feel that it is vastly important because right now, the narcotics task force is the only dedicated enforcement body in the county fighting this problem," Rudloff said.
  • Continue supporting governmental, public, and private-based entities which provide opiate addiction treatment and recovery services.

Actively participate in known public or private forums that will welcome members of the Sheriff's Office in an effort to spread awareness and education on the opioid epidemic. "The Sheriff's Office recognizes that 'enforcement action' is only one part of the fight. Provider-based services play a vital role in the opioid epidemic. Individual opiate treatment and recovery options, as it relates to the causation of an enforcement action, is always the goal of the Sheriff's Office," Rudloff added.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Kruz81

    Fucking China...always.

    Thursday, March 16, 2023 Report this

  • JasonS

    The synthetic opioid Fentanyl is purchased from China by criminals in MEXICO, where it is being mixed with less lethal drugs and sold as something it isn't (anything from Xanax on up to cocaine or heroin). The Mexican cartels are the real enemy in this scenario.

    Thursday, March 16, 2023 Report this