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News / Health / Clark County Health

State dashboard shows Clark County overdose deaths doubled between 2016 and 2021

DOH tool shows opioid, drug overdose numbers by county

By Kelsey Turner, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 7, 2023, 6:06am

An opioid and drug overdose dashboard launched last week by the Washington State Department of Health shows overdose deaths in Clark County doubled between 2016 and 2021, rising from 58 to 117 deaths.

To fight these surging death rates, the Department of Health is using data.

The dashboard combines the state’s drug overdose data into one location, helping communities reduce deaths by presenting information in an accessible format that enables them to make informed decisions.

“Data is vital in addressing the state’s opioid epidemic,” said Anna Frerichs, a Department of Health drug overdose epidemiologist. “We have to understand the magnitude and distribution of the problem in order to know how to approach it.”

The data, updated quarterly from death certificates and hospital discharge information and other sources, shows statewide age-adjusted rates of overdose deaths and hospitalizations since 2016. Data for 2022 is still preliminary, as it takes the department 12-18 months to collect complete information.

SIGNS OF AN OVERDOSE AND HOW TO RESPOND

Signs of an opioid overdose include falling asleep or losing consciousness; constricted pupils; slow, weak or no breathing; choking or gurgling sounds; cold or clammy skin; and discolored skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you think someone is showing signs of an overdose, call 911 immediately. Washington’s Good Samaritan Overdose Law protects you and the person you are helping from drug-possession charges.

Here are some tips on how to respond to an opioid overdose, according to stopoverdose.org: First, try waking the person up. If they are unresponsive, immediately call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. If you have naloxone, also known as Narcan, administer one dose and practice rescue breathing. If the person does not wake up after 2 to 3 minutes, give them another dose.

For more information and access to naloxone trainings, visit clark.wa.gov/public-health/overdose-prevention-and-response and stopoverdose.org.

The dashboard breaks down death and hospitalization rates by region and county, presenting information in color-coded maps, graphs and line charts. It doesn’t release small numbers to avoid sharing personal health information.

Data can be further broken down by date and demographics, including age, sex, and race and ethnicity.

“It was designed with usability and user experience in mind by a team of dashboard experts,” Frerichs said. It was reviewed by subject matter experts, local health jurisdictions and tribes for input, she added. “We believe that our data completeness and quality is very high.”

A statewide heat map places each county in one of five brackets based on its age-adjusted overdose death rate. Clark County is in the second-lowest of the five brackets, with 23.39 overdose deaths per 100,000 population in 2021. The statewide average was 29.02.

The data can also be filtered by type of drug — any opioid, cocaine, heroin, prescription opioid, psychostimulants and synthetic opioids. The department plans to add a “polysubstance use” measure for instances when multiple drugs are taken together, according to Frerichs.

In Clark County, as across the state, the surge in overdose deaths is largely driven by synthetic opioids, specifically fentanyl.

In contrast to the county’s climbing death rate, its nonfatal hospitalizations declined about 38 percent between 2016 and 2021, from 383 to 238 hospitalizations, according to the dashboard.

Statewide, overdose deaths disproportionately impact Washington’s American Indian and Alaska Native communities, at a rate of 111.67 deaths per 100,000 population in 2021, the highest of all races. Black communities are second-most impacted, at a rate of 65.15 deaths per 100,000 population.

Clark County’s overdose deaths are highest among people ages 55-64, followed by ages 25-34. The death rate is higher for the county’s men than women, with 79 males dying of overdose in 2021 versus 38 females.

The dashboard will be continually updated with new data sources, visualizations and measures, according to Frerichs.

Information on how to prevent and respond to drug overdoses can be found on the DOH website at https://tinyurl.com/45edwwbn.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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