The fentanyl crisis is deepening in Washington communities. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson therefore has appealed to the federal government for more help from a promising Drug Enforcement Agency program.
In an Aug. 22 letter, Ferguson asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to expand Operation Overdrive to Everett, Spokane or Yakima. Federal officials credit the program with the seizure of more than 13 million doses of fentanyl and 1,300 illegal guns as well as the arrest of more than 1,700 traffickers nationwide.
The DEA launched Operation Overdrive in 34 communities last year but included no Washington communities in the first cohort. When the program expanded this year, Seattle landed on the list. The city definitely needs help. Fentanyl is acutely deadly here. As of Thursday, fentanyl had killed 704 people in King County. By the time you’re reading this, that number could have surpassed the 712 fentanyl deaths in all of 2022, and there’s still four months left in the year.
The problem is not isolated to Seattle. Washington recorded the largest percentage increase in drug overdose deaths of any state from February 2022 to February 2023, according to Ferguson. Snohomish, Spokane and Yakima counties each had higher rates of fatal overdoses than the statewide average. Spokane County saw overdoses increase by a factor of 10 in just two years.
Fentanyl and substance use disorders broadly are a scourge on Washington that affects crime, quality of life, the economy and more. As The Seattle Times’ Lauren Girgis recently reported, Washington has become a deadly hub for international traffickers, who use Interstate 5 to move drugs smuggled in from Mexico to Canada and Interstate 90 to move fentanyl through Eastern Washington to neighboring states.
Ferguson has done a commendable job focusing attention on the fentanyl crisis. His lawsuits against reckless opioid distributors, manufacturers and pharmacies have recovered $1 billion to be used by state and by local governments to fund prevention, treatment and recovery programs. But additional federal resources are needed to help identify and map cases against a sophisticated network of traffickers involving multiple drug cartels.
Operation Overdrive appears to be disrupting and, in some cases, dismantling the criminals responsible for turning fentanyl overdoses into the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45. Bring its success to the rest of Washington. The state needs all the help it can get in ending this tragedy.