Alongside First Responders in Seattle, Senator Murray Pushes to Address Opioid Crisis

Alongside First Responders in Seattle, Senator Murray Pushes to Address Opioid Crisis

By: Alexandra de Leon Date: May 20th, 2022

The following information was released by Washington Senator Patty Murray:

(Seattle, WA) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, Pensions Committee, hosted a roundtable with first responders and health care workers in Seattle to discuss the opioid crisis in Washington state, the surge in fentanyl, and her work in the Senate to address the crisis and get families and communities the support they need. Senator Murray was joined by Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, State Representative Nicole Macri, University of Washington Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute Principle Research Scientist Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, Public Health—Seattle & King County social worker Thea Oliphant-Wells, Aurora Commons Executive Director Elizabeth Dahl, and City of Seattle Health Integration Strategist Jeff Sakuma.

“It is painfully clear this pandemic set our entire country back catastrophically when it comes to substance use disorders. Our families are hurting, and no one knows that better than the people in this room,” said Senator Murray. “This is hard work, and we owe it to our first responders to make sure they have all the support they need. That’s why I’ve constantly pushed to get more resources to our communities so they can continue investing in the programs they are seeing do the most good.”

“I’ve constantly worked across the aisle to get more resources to our communities so they can continue investing in the programs they are seeing do the most good,” continued Senator Murray. “ And I’m working on new bipartisan legislation right now to strengthen the tools we have to support the work happening on the ground in our state to address overdose deaths. It’s so important to me that I get the opportunity to listen to these stories and to communities across Washington—and take them with me back to the other Washington.”

“We have heard more and more tragic stories of overdose deaths as we’ve seen the numbers of people living unsheltered increase and the proliferation of fentanyl use in our community,” said State Representative Nicole Macri. “It is indeed hitting us hard. In the last two years, the legislature has taken steps to invest over $800 million to bolster our behavioral health system statewide…that includes over $125 million in targeted, specific services for substance use disorder.”

“We respond to about four overdoses here at Seattle Fire every single day, so that’s about 1,200 to 1,500 a year,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. “At least four times a day our units are going and we have the resources that can connect people up to services. So Senator Murray, thank you for all your efforts in helping us do this.”

“What I’m really seeing is that fentanyl is so potent, cheap, and available that it’s really forcing us to finally do something different, we have to,” said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, Principal Research Scientist at the UW Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute in the UW School of Public Health. “So by combining the opioid addiction treatment medications buprenorphine and methadone with ongoing engagement services, harm reduction services and supplies, stabilization supports, and trauma-informed care, that’s our best chance at making a dent in this crisis.”

“Living homeless and having a lot of barriers to care, having harm reduction spaces is absolutely vital, spaces that are open for people to arrive whenever and however they are” said Thea Oliphant-Wells, a social worker at Public Health—Seattle & King County, who has lived experienced with homelessness and opioid use disorder. “A lot of my work as a social worker in harm reduction settings has been building that relationship, that trust with that person so they know that I’m not there to harm them.”

“Aurora Commons is a community space that offers person-centered, relationship-driven model of care for people experiencing homelessness and people who use drugs,” said Elizabeth Dahl, Executive Director of Aurora Commons. “We have lost a devastating amount of people to the opioid crisis, a devastating number for deaths that are preventable. We need to be able to respond to the surge in overdose with the tools that can help prevent overdoses.”

“We need to continue to step in to really try to engage with people via outreach, via these spaces where people feel safe to come inside and engage with staff,” said Jeff Sakuma, Health Integration Strategist at City of Seattle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the nation saw over 107,000 overdose deaths last year—an all-time high.  Since 2019, overdose deaths in Washington state have increased by two-thirds, and the crisis has grown worse nationwide—with the rise fueled by fentanyl, in particular. During hearings, Senator Murray has also highlighted how our substance use disorder workforce is stretched thin, and that nationwide, less than one in ten people who need treatment for substance use disorder actually get it.

Senator Murray has long fought to support communities and families struggling with substance use disorder, and is currently working to address the worsening opioid crisis.

As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS), Senator Murray was also instrumental in passing the recent government funding package in March which provides more than $5 billion for programs addressing mental health and substance use disorders—that bill passed with a more than $300 million increase to address substance use disorders over the last government funding package thanks to Senator Murray’s efforts. Money from the government funding package Murray helped pass provides funding for things like: significant resources for the State Opioid Response Grant program; the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, opioid overdose surveillance and prevention at CDC; and resources to help affected rural communities specifically such as the Rural Emergency Medical Services Training and Equipment Program, which helps emergency responders train staff and purchase overdose reversal medications.

In her role as Chair of the HELP Committee, Senator Murray is also leading the efforts on a bipartisan package to reauthorize, improve, and expand federal mental health and substance use disorder programs—Murray has been a longtime leader in tackling the opioid crisis in Congress, working with her Republican counterparts to advance significant bipartisan legislation to address the opioid crisis, including under the Trump administration.