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Tacoma-Pierce County Opioid Task Force Seeks to Tackle Crisis

By Kimberley Bjorn

News headlines in recent years have made it tragically clear that opioid use and addiction in the United States have reached crisis levels.

News headlines in recent years have made it tragically clear that opioid use and addiction in the United States have reached crisis levels.

However, a new and even more shocking development now emerging is that the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 is fentanyl overdoses (Families Against Fentanyl).

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was originally developed for pain management in treatment of cancer patients.

However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that because of its powerful opioid properties, fentanyl is frequently diverted for abuse. Often, fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency. Sometimes, it is even disguised as highly potent heroin.

Many users believe they are purchasing heroin, unaware they’re actually buying fentanyl, according to the DEA. Clandestinely-produced fentanyl is primarily manufactured in Mexico.

Those who use fentanyl are at exceptionally high risk of addiction and dependence.

When taken in high doses and/or combined with other substances including alcohol, heroin or cocaine, fentanyl can cause respiratory distress and death.

According to the CDC, between April 2020 and April 2021, opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. increased by 28.5 percent, reaching 93,000. During the same period, fentanyl-related overdose deaths increased by 49.4 percent, reaching 79,000.

But 100 percent of these deaths are preventable.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Elevate Health seeks to join forces with its community partners to increase awareness, reduce stigma, improve health, and address many barriers for people who have substance use disorders. As a member of the Tacoma-Pierce County Opioid Taskforce, Elevate Health concentrates on prevention and education, access to treatment, and offering individuals the right services at the right time.

"Everyone has been affected by the opioid crisis. It cuts across race and class and ability and health. This isn't a character flaw. It's an illness," Chelsea Amato, Tacoma-Pierce County Opioid Task Force Program Manager, said during an Elevate Health Podcast episode.

Elevate Health is an ongoing sponsor of the annual Tacoma-Pierce County Opioid Summit, which began in 2018. The 2022 Opioid Summit, themed “Rooting Our Response to the Opioid Crisis in Racial Equity,” will take place on March 17, 2022, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Pacific Time.

Register now to learn from Pierce County leaders and subject matter experts about pertinent data and best practices in confronting the opioid crisis.

Interested in getting involved? To learn more about the Pierce County Overdose Awareness Campaign or the Pierce County Opioid Taskforce (OTF), contact Chelsea Amato at camato@tpchd.org or (253) 720-7483.

Opioid overdose can happen to anyone and is completely preventable. If you or someone you know is experiencing addiction, please use the resources listed below:

  • Crisis Connections' 24 Hour Crisis Line: (866) 427-4747

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