With drug overdose and deaths rising alarmingly among youth, King County today launched a new fentanyl overdose prevention campaign, targeted specifically to reach young people between the ages of 14 to 18 years old. Called Laced & Lethal, the campaign is designed to teach teens about the risk of buying pills and powders potentially laced with fentanyl, a powerful and often deadly drug. A campaign focused on adults will follow later this year.
“There is an urgent need to bring to light the danger of fentanyl in our community, and particularly to making sure local teens and their families know that fentanyl-laced substances are being sold in our area, with tragic results,” said Kelli Nomura, director of the King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division (BHRD), the primary funder of the campaign. “This campaign reaches out to educate young people on overdose prevention and how medications like naloxone can reverse fentanyl overdose and save lives.”
King County is seeing more and more substances laced with fentanyl, especially counterfeit pills. Between 2018-2020, King County saw a 167 percent increase in the number of fentanyl-involved deaths. Extremely troubling is the fact that 18 local youth died of fatal overdose in 2020.
“In King County, from 2015 to 2020, fentanyl overdose deaths increased from three to 174. These tragic and preventable deaths are happening in all areas of the county. People who die from fentanyl overdose are significantly younger than people dying from other types of drug overdose,” said Brad Finegood, Strategic Advisor for Behavioral Health, Public Health – Seattle & King County. “People need to know that fentanyl is in counterfeit pills and powders and how lethal one single pill can be. A fentanyl overdose is reversable, so please do not use alone and carry naloxone.”
King County youth contemplating substance use or using pills and powder substances are at risk for encountering fentanyl in the drug supply, which increases risk for overdose or witnessing overdose. The Laced & Lethal campaign will provide youth with the knowledge, resources, and education they need to stay safe, stay alive and help their friends.
“What we are seeing with fentanyl is unprecedented, both in terms of the rapid increase in numbers overall as well as the number of youth and young adults dying from overdoses,” said Caleb Banta-Green, Principal Research Scientist, University of Washington Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute, (ADAI). “This will require new and impactful ways to spread the word that there is no margin for error with these drugs.”
The Laced & Lethal campaign includes several components aimed at youth audiences:
In concert with the campaign, King County will offer access to free naloxone, an emergency response drug that given immediately in the event of an overdose can reverse an opioid overdose and save a life.
“Pharmacists are the community’s most accessible healthcare provider. By making Narcan kits easily available from the pharmacy, and in a youth-friendly manner, we believe that young people will feel empowered to take an important step towards keeping themselves and those they care about safer by carrying an important tool for preventing overdose,” said Ryan Oftebro, Principal Pharmacist at Kelley-Ross Pharmacy Group.
Information on how youth obtain free naloxone, additional resources, and information about the Laced & Lethal campaign can be found at select community-based organizations around King County and is available at www.LacedAndLethal.com.
Primary funding for the Laced & Lethal campaign was provided by King County’s MIDD Behavioral Health and Recovery Fund and Public Health-Seattle & King County through a Center for Disease Control grant. Additional support came from the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Healthy Youth Initiative. Other partners include the City of Seattle, the University of Washington ADAI, the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, and Kelley-Ross Pharmacy.
The campaign was developed in partnership with Rescue | The Behavior Change Agency (Rescue). Rescue is a communications agency whose mission, since 2001, has been to make evidence-based campaigns that strive to make healthy behaviors easier and more appealing. Rescue focuses exclusively on positive social change that develops campaigns to tackle issues including tobacco prevention, substance use prevention, sexual health, and obesity prevention and nutrition education.