Health officials issued a public alert Tuesday after seven likely overdose deaths from heroin occurred in King County since Saturday, possibly the result of an increased potency or a mixture with other substances.
“The best way for injection drug users to prevent overdose is not to use heroin, but for those who do, they need to be aware of the overdose risks,” Dr. Charissa Fotinos, medical director for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said in a statement.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the seven deaths, which occurred across the county, among people 17 to 61 years of age, including experienced and inexperienced users. The number was described as notable, compared with 32 heroin-overdose deaths in the first six months of 2011.
Officials, who are working with partners to analyze the spike and alert users, advised users to not inject when alone; use less if the heroin looks new or different; don’t mix heroin with “downer” drugs, alcohol or prescription opiates, or with stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine.
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For anyone who is with someone overdosing on heroin, Washington state’s Good Samaritan law provides immunity from criminal charges of drug possession for the witness and the person experiencing the overdose. The law also applies to obtaining Narcan, an opiate antagonist that reverses the effect of overdose from heroin and other opiates and is available at Public Health’s downtown Seattle needle exchange.