Cantwell Convenes Fentanyl Roundtable in Tri-Cities

Health care providers, law enforcement & people with history of fentanyl addiction share experiences from the front lines of this crisis; Cantwell: “We've been able to expand some of the community-based health and mental health [services] that I think create a more robust system -- but we have a long, long way to go.”

KENNEWICK, 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 at the Benton Franklin Health District headquarters in Kennewick.

Today’s discussion marked Sen. Cantwell’s third listening session as she seeks to hear about the experiences of people on the front lines of the fentanyl crisis from all across Washington state. In May, Sen. Cantwell hosted a fentanyl crisis roundtable discussion in Pierce County followed by a second roundtable discussion in Snohomish County in June.

“This is our third forum that we've been having to gain data and information about what communities are doing, and to try to work together in creating a state task force that helps in coalition with federal resources to truly try to fight this scourge. We've been successful in the past in fighting both meth and opioids with new tools, but I feel like we keep cutting the head off the dragon only for it to come back bigger and more menacing,” said Sen. Cantwell.  “We're trying to think about how to streamline the services and get people into where they need to go -- and then, obviously, do everything we can to stop the flow of the product into our communities in general.”

Roundtable participants included representatives from the Benton Franklin Health District, the City of Kennewick, Ideal Options, Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, the Kennewick Police Department, Kadlec Regional Medical Center, Trios Health, and two people with lived experience of fentanyl addiction.

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) projects 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.  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.

In 2021 (the most recent data available), the Department of Health reports that Benton, Franklin, and Yakima counties experienced 89 fentanyl-related fatal overdoses, an increase of 15.6% over the number of fatal overdoses in 2020.  Last week it was reported that so far in 2023, nearly all overdose deaths in the Tri-Cities – all but two of about two dozen so far – were related to fentanyl.  During the first quarter of 2023, the median price of a fentanyl pill in Benton, Franklin, Grant, and Yakima counties was $3. According to Kennewick PD Criminal Investigations Commander Aaron Clem, the local drug task force seized more than 200,000 fentanyl pills during the first half of 2023.

Audio of Sen. Cantwell’s statements at the roundtable can be heard HERE; and a transcript can be viewed HERE.