NEWS: Senate passes Wilson, Braun bills to tackle opioid addiction, overdose deaths

Bills launch education program, fund tribal recovery efforts -- key elements in Senate Republicans’ ‘Recovery Washington’ package

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-17OLYMPIA… Washington state’s fast-rising rate of opioid addiction and overdose deaths are targeted by a pair of bills that emerged from the state Senate this week, sponsored by Sens. John Braun, R-Centralia and Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver.

Both measures passed the Senate 49-0 and now move to the House.

The bills launch a coordinated statewide education program aimed at youths and adults, and fund tribal efforts for prevention, recovery and treatment. The bills are part of the ‘Recovery Washington’ package advanced by Senate Republicans this year to coordinate state efforts to promote drug treatment and prevent drug overdoses. Washington state leads the nation in the growth of overdose deaths, according to the latest federal figures – a 40 percent increase in the 12 months preceding August. Some 2,700 deaths were recorded in 2022.

Senate Bill 5906, sponsored by Wilson, launches a public awareness campaign under the direction of the state Department of Health. The campaign would provide information about the dangers of methamphetamines and opioids, with emphasis on fentanyl. It also would provide information about drug addiction, treatment programs, and state laws providing immunity for those who seek assistance in overdose cases.

Wilson said many teenagers fail to recognize that most pills available through illicit channels use fentanyl as their active ingredient – which can be deadly even in small doses. “They don’t realize the pills they are ordering on the Internet are laced with fentanyl,” she said. “We need to educate kids that one pill can kill.”

SB 6099, sponsored by Braun, recognizes that Washington tribes are the hardest hit of any racial or ethnic population in the state. Overdose deaths are double the rate of the next-closest group, Braun said in remarks on the Senate floor. For comparison, he noted that West Virginia ranks first among states in overdose deaths per capita, but the death rate among Washington tribal members is 50 percent higher.

“Tribes aren’t standing still on this problem,” Braun said. “Several tribes have built or are building substance use disorder treatment facilities, often providing treatment service to both tribal members and to community members, but this is a big problem in our state, and we should lend a hand. This is a way to give them the resources they need to be successful.”

Braun’s measure creates the Tribal Opioid Prevention and Treatment Account and funds it with money the state will receive from a national opioid settlement with drug manufacturers and distributors. Tribes would receive approximately 20 percent of the settlement money the state expects to receive over the next 17 years. The money would be earmarked for tribal programs to combat opioids, including prevention and recovery services, educational campaigns and support for first responders.