For opioid overdoses, treatment is the best prevention

On Overdose Awareness Day, Washington state continues to integrate community-wide efforts to save lives

Washington state, along with the rest of the nation, is experiencing increased extreme challenges with opioids in every community. In response, state agencies and partners are coordinating opioid response efforts, raising awareness of overdoses and reducing the stigma of drug-related deaths.

“Opioids have created a public health crisis throughout the nation, and different states are responding in different ways. We’re not only committed to prevention efforts, but our focus has also been on treatment, which we know can be the best prevention,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Overdose Awareness Day is an important way to highlight the work of our state agencies and partners who have been working together to help providers, patients, community organizations and families prevent and treat opioid abuse. Our state’s innovative ‘hub and spoke’ model will make treatment more accessible to the people who need it, at the right time, and the right places, which saves lives.”

In response to the growing opioid epidemic, Inslee issued an executive order in the fall of 2016, that brought together state agencies, local public health organizations, law enforcement, tribal governments, and other partners to act on opioids as part of a strategic state wide effort.

Notably, overdoses from prescription opioids have declined, in part due to increased coordination and treatment efforts. However, similar to other states, Washington is now experiencing a high increase of use of a synthetic and most often counterfeit drug called Fentanyl. It often looks like a real pill or comes laced with other drugs. It is a leading cause of overdose and death in many areas because it’s very potent compared to even heroin or prescription drugs. Fentanyl overdoses have spiked sharply over the past two years.

To tackle all overdoses and opioid misuse, the state Opioid Response Workgroup was formed. Made up of representatives from state health and safety agencies, academia, and local communities recently updated the Washington State Opioid Response Plan to align with changes in the opioid crisis, emerging scientific evidence, new policies implemented by the legislature, and new activities supported by state and federal funding.

The state plan includes increased support for a “hub-and-spoke” model of opioid treatment. This treatment model creates local partnerships between prescribers of medications such as Suboxone, Methadone and Naltrexone — known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) — and treatment agencies, jails, syringe exchanges, mental health organizations, Department of Corrections and hospital emergency departments.

Washington state’s opioid response has four main goals:

1. Prevent opioid misuse and abuse

2. Identify and treat opioid use disorder

3. Reduce morbidity and mortality from opioid use disorder

4. Use data and information to detect opioid misuse/abuse, monitor morbidity and mortality, and evaluate interventions

The plan also recognizes the need to reach more communities with opioid misuse and abuse prevention information, and to provide recovery support services for people with opioid use disorders, including pregnant and parenting women.

Other current activities include — changing the opioid prescribing rules — a process directed by the Washington State Legislature for implementation by the end of 2018. It focuses on improving opioid prescribing practice and prescription monitoring. It requires the boards and commissions whose professions prescribe opioids — nursing, medicine, osteopathic medicine, dentistry, and podiatry — to adopt rules for prescribing opioid drugs.

There are many opioid-related initiatives and activities happening at the local, state, or national level which are not included in the state plan. For more information on local activities, a good place to start is the county public health department.

Information on International Overdose Awareness Day can be found at

For help with addiction, contact the Washington Recovery Helpline at 1–866–789–1511 or visit