Mar 21, 2024 - Politics

New laws aim to prevent youth opioid overdoses in Washington

Illustration of a health plus carved out of an apple.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

New laws in Washington aim to combat rising fentanyl overdoses in Washington state, especially among young people.

Why it matters: The rate of opioid-related deaths among 14- to 18-year-olds almost tripled in Washington from 2016 to 2022, according to the state Department of Health.

The big picture: Public health officials say increased presence of the synthetic opioid fentanyl is driving a spike in overdose deaths across age groups.

  • King County alone recorded more than 1,000 overdose deaths involving fentanyl in 2023, compared to 111 in 2019.

Driving the news: Measures that Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law this week will increase public education about fentanyl and other opioids and require more schools to stock overdose-reversal medications such as naloxone.

  • Right now, only high schools in districts with at least 2,000 students must stock the overdose-reversing drug, commonly called Narcan.
  • Under Senate Bill 5804, elementary and middle schools must also have doses on hand, as must all high schools.

Zoom in: A second new law requires the state Department of Health to launch a statewide opioid education campaign, with a focus on how other drugs can be contaminated with small but potentially fatal amounts of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

  • That measure is named after 16-year-old Lucas Petty, who died after smoking a joint laced with fentanyl, his mother told lawmakers during public committee hearings this year.
  • House Bill 1956 will also incorporate fentanyl education into the public school curriculum.

What they're saying: "It's not just experimenting — our children are playing Russian roulette with their lives," Maria Trujillo-Petty testified before a panel of lawmakers last month.

  • "My hope is that this bill will provide families and youth with the education so no other parent has to live like this."

A third new law, House Bill 2112, will require colleges and universities to stock naloxone and fentanyl test strips and educate students and residence hall staff about opioids and fentanyl.

Zoom out: While signing the bills into law this week, Inslee said money for treatment is another important piece of the state's fight against opioids.

  • Earlier this month, Washington lawmakers approved nearly $80 million in new spending on substance use disorder programs through mid-2025.
  • They also created a specialized account that will use opioid settlement money to boost treatment and prevention among tribal communities, which have higher rates of overdose deaths.

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