Public Health warns of recent rise in opioid overdose visits to emergency departments

Clark County Public Health warns of an increase in opioid overdoses, with preliminary evidence suggesting most of the recent overdoses may be due to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

Preliminary evidence suggests most of the recent overdoses may be due to fentanyl

VANCOUVER  – Clark County Public Health is warning the community about a recent increase in emergency department visits due to opioid overdoses. Preliminary evidence suggests most of the recent overdoses may be due to fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl may be added to illicit drugs during their production without the drug user’s knowledge. 

“Anyone who uses powdered drugs or takes pills that were not given to them by a pharmacy should assume they contain fentanyl,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director. “There’s no way to know how much fentanyl is in a drug or if it’s evenly distributed throughout the batch.”

The state Department of Health’s emergency department data monitoring system detected a possible cluster of opioid overdoses in Clark County. The information is preliminary but suggests a significant increase in emergency department visits due to suspected opioid overdoses April 15-18. Ten Clark County residents 18 to 72 years old visited emergency departments for suspected opioid overdoses during that time frame. The primary substance involved appears to be fentanyl; methamphetamine also appears to be involved. None of the overdoses were fatal, and naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, was administered to most of the individuals experiencing overdose.

When administered to someone experiencing an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids and allows the person to begin breathing again. Naloxone is available at most pharmacies and does not require a prescription. Washington residents can have free naloxone delivered to their home or find community locations providing naloxone, including local naloxone vending machines, by visiting  

Clark County Public Health’s Harm Reduction Center provides free opioid overdose prevention, recognition and response training and naloxone kits to community members during regular service hours. Public Health also offers expanded training for community service providers and organizations. 

People who use drugs should take steps to reduce the risk of fentanyl overdose:

• Carry at least three doses of naloxone and know how to use it. Let friends know that you have naloxone, where you keep it, and how to use it.

• Don’t use alone. Someone using alone cannot call for help during an overdose.

If you are going to use alone, call a friend or Never Use Alone at (800) 484-3731 so they can send help if needed.

• Don’t mix drugs. Mixing different types of drugs, like opioids, alcohol, methamphetamine or cocaine increases your risk for overdose. 

• Call 9-1-1 if someone overdoses. The state’s Good Samaritan Overdose Law protects you and the person you are helping from drug possession charges.

An overdose involving fentanyl is similar to overdoses of other opioids, but it can come on much faster and stronger than a typical opioid overdose. Overdose signs include: 

• Won’t wake up or hard to wake up

• Slow or no breathing

• Gurgling, gasping or snoring

• Pale, ashy, cool skin

• Blue or gray lips or fingernails

People experiencing substance use disorder can be connected to local treatment resources and community services by calling the Washington Recovery Help Line at 866.789.1511. The 24-hour help line also provides anonymous, confidential emotional support for Washington residents.

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