Cantwell Convenes Fentanyl Roundtable in Spokane

State of WA experienced biggest increase in drug overdose deaths in the U.S.; 147 deaths in Spokane Co. involving fentanyl in 2022

SPOKANE, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) heard from first responders, health care providers, law enforcement, and members of the community who have been personally impacted by fentanyl during a roundtable discussion in Spokane at The NATIVE Project.

Today’s discussion marked Sen. Cantwell’s fifth stop on an ongoing listening tour across Washington state to hear from people on the front lines of the fentanyl crisis. In May, Sen. Cantwell hosted a fentanyl crisis roundtable discussion in Pierce County followed by a second roundtable discussion in Snohomish County in June; earlier this month, she convened a roundtable in the Tri-Cities and a roundtable in downtown Seattle.

“We've been on a listening tour throughout our state trying to think of the best ways to work together collectively, across many different organizations to fight what is, I think, a national crisis in our country,” said Sen. Cantwell. “We've [seen] unbelievable efforts by people in communities to try to make a difference on this issue.”

“We've heard also about some of the tools that the community needs, on the treatment side,” added Sen. Cantwell, “like figuring out how to get more flexibility about the number of beds available and immediate treatment. That's a big theme that we're hearing from everybody: we need immediate treatment."

In 2022, there were 147 deaths in Spokane County involving fentanyl, according to the Spokane County Medical Examiner. There was a 36.1% increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Spokane County from 2021 to 2022 and a 425% increase from 2020 to 2022. Spokane Department of Health records show a 1,233% increase in fentanyl-related overdoses from 2017 to 2021.

Fentanyl seizures by the DEA Seattle Field Division in Spokane County increased by 1,098% from 2020 to 2021. The average price for a fentanyl tablet in Spokane in January-May 2023 was $2.96.

Sen. Cantwell noted that recently-passed legislation may be able to help reduce fentanyl trafficking. 

“Just this past week in Washington, D.C., we were able to pass out of the Senate what is called the FEND [Off Fentanyl] Act,” said Sen. Cantwell. “The FEND Act is about trying to basically stop the flow of fentanyl in our country. We've heard from DEA and law enforcement officials about the unbelievable trafficking of this product and the volume... And so this FEND Off Fentanyl Act is about bringing new tools to sanction and stop the trafficking of this product and to work collectively with our Department of Treasury and DEA to not only be able to go after the cartels, but to go after the money laundering organizations that help launder the money that allows them to keep in operation.”

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in Washington state, outnumbering deaths from vehicle collisions and firearms. Data released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the State of Washington experienced the single highest increase among U.S. states in reported drug overdose deaths between February 2022 and February 2023, an increase of 21.42%.

According to the CDC, 105,258 people in the United States died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings in the 12-month period ending in February 2023 – a figure that the CDC projects will increase with additional reporting – and a staggering 67% of overdose deaths in 2022 involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Last month, researchers at the University of Washington reported that in 2022, fentanyl was involved in 90% of opioid overdoses in Washington state and 65% of all overdose deaths.

Public health and law enforcement officials at the roundtable also warned about the emergence of xylazine, also known as tranq, as a new dimension to the fentanyl crisis.  In May, Sen. Cantwell led a Commerce Committee markup of S. 1280, the TRANQ Research Act, to help combat the rise in illicit use of xylazine. It directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to take steps to enhance understanding of xylazine or tranq and other novel synthetic drugs, develop new tests for detection, and establish partnerships with front-line entities that are often the first points of contact with new street drugs. Sen. Cantwell is a cosponsor of that bipartisan bill, and also cosponsored similar bipartisan language to amend a bill that subsequently passed the Senate by unanimous consent last month.

Roundtable participants included Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer; representatives from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, The NATIVE Project, the Spokane Tribe, the Spokane Municipal Court, the Spokane Regional Health District, Maddie’s Place, MultiCare, Compassionate Addiction Treatment, and Peer Spokane; and three people with lived experience of fentanyl addiction.

Photos from today’s event are available HERE, video HERE, and a transcript of Sen. Cantwell’s remarks is available HERE.