Last week a 20-year-old woman died of what appeared to be a drug overdose in Walla Walla County. It was the third local drug-related death so far this year — that means in the past three weeks.
It’s a shocking statistic to many in this community. After all, drug overdoses rarely, if ever, occur in Walla Walla, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The problem is more pervasive than imagined.
Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood said that in addition to the three deaths, several other overdoses have been reported that were not fatal.
Greenwood said overdoses have been on the rise in the past year.
In 2012, the coroner said, 46 drug- or alcohol-related deaths were reported in the county. Five deaths involved alcohol and prescription drugs.
“Last year really caught our attention,” Greenwood said. “And this year hasn’t slowed up.”
A variety of reasons can lead to drug-related deaths, including drugs that are more concentrated — pure — than the users anticipated. Purity levels of illegal drugs such as heroin are not monitored by the FDA nor are they carefully measured and dispensed by pharmacists.
Walla Walla Police Capt. Chris Buttice said overdoses can spike when, as has been occurring for the past year, lethal drugs are being sold on the street. Deaths don’t stop dealers from trying to unload their lethal product.
Busting the drug dealers doesn’t solve the problem. New ones step up to take their place.
The spike in drug-related deaths over the past year, and over the past three weeks, is a warning that should not be ignored.
The community has to accept that drug-related deaths do happen here. That won’t solve the problem, but realizing there is a problem is the first step to finding a solution.