Seattle Blames Skyrocketing Drug Overdoses On ‘Structural Racism’

(REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

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Mary Lou Masters Contributor
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A Seattle public health official on Tuesday blamed “racism” for an “exponential” rise in drug overdoses that the city is currently experiencing.

After the institution of several permissive drug policies, Seattle is suffering from an ongoing drug crisis, with King County seeing a total of 1,018 overdose deaths in 2022, up from roughly 700 in 2021, according to county data. Sharon Bogan, public health spokesperson for King County and Seattle, said the area saw a dramatic 40% rise in drug overdoses from 2021 to 2022 due in part to “structural racism” and economic factors.

“The underlying root causes that have resulted in the current overdose crisis are, unfortunately, not ones that will be reversed overnight. Structural factors, including lack of economic opportunities, social isolation, structural racism, criminalization of substance use disorders, housing stability, and stigma, are just some of the factors that will require long-term, systematic changes and resources at all levels, from federal to state to local,” Bogan told KIRO 7.

In 2022, King County averaged 17 deaths by overdose per week, with 70% driven by fentanyl, according to county data. (RELATED: After Seattle Defunded Its Police, Local Business Owners Say Crime Is Worse Than Ever)

“Since 2019, the number of overdose deaths has grown on an exponential scale, jumping by 20% between 2019 and 2020 and jumping by an additional 39% between 2020 and 2021,” the county wrote in its report on overdose deaths.

The county currently operates a needle exchange, which supplies “people who use drugs by injection” or PWDI, with clean needles in an effort to reduce harm and enable drug users to inject themselves in a safer manner.

Needle exchange programs provide new, sterile syringes and clean injection equipment in exchange for used, contaminated syringes,” according to the county. 

In 2021, the state of Washington temporarily decriminalized drug possession, making it a misdemeanor rather than a felony, according to Axios.

King County declined to comment further.

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