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Fentanyl crisis disproportionately impacting Native Americans in King County

FILE – A photo of blue fentanyl pills. (Photo: Getty Images)
FILE – A photo of blue fentanyl pills. (Photo: Getty Images)
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When it comes to the fentanyl crisis, Native Americans suffer more than any other ethnic group in King County. A tribal summit and new money for treatment could begin to address those challenges.

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Fentanyl has taken a vicious hold on the streets of Seattle. Crayton Lawrence knows its grip first-hand.

“I was addicted for five years right here in Seattle,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence is a member of Lummi Nation and believes he might still be addicted and on the streets if it weren't for a treatment program he found just in time.

“The Seattle Indian Health Board basically saved me,” Lawrence said.

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Seattle city leaders are now looking at ways to invest $14 million awarded from legal settlements with pharmaceutical makers to expand opioid treatment programs. During a presentation to the Public Safety and Human Services Committee on Tuesday, public health officials showed that Native American communities have the greatest need.

“Our American Indian and Alaska Native friends are dying at approximately nine times the rate of that of white individuals,” said Brad Finegood, the strategic advisor for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

According to public health’s overdose dashboard, American Indian/Alaska Native people died at an age-adjusted rate from overdoses at 293 per 100,000. For comparison, black people died at a rate of 101 people per 100,000, and whites died at a rate of 39 people per 100,000.

“Native Americans, from whatever tribe they're from, they are out there struggling on fentanyl and methamphetamine,” Lawrence said.

Staff at Seattle Indian Health Board recently completed Narcan training to help resuscitate people who have just overdosed.

Dr. Social Love-Thurman, the board’s health officer, said it is making a difference.

“Wherever they are, whether it be near our clinic or elsewhere, they have the tools they need to save a life,” Love-Thurman said.

On a bigger scale, Gov. Jay Inslee is taking part in a fentanyl summit hosted by Lummi Nation. The goal is to draw up a plan of action for tribal communities to combat the opioid crisis by addressing the specific challenges Native Americans face.

“We're at the table, and I'm excited to see what will come out of it,” Love-Thurman said.

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In recent years, life expectancy for Native populations has dropped by 6.6 years, and overdose deaths are contributing to that decline.

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