Click here for video of TVW coverage of news conference
OLYMPIA… Senate Republicans are calling for a stronger response to Washington’s opioid crisis with a package of bills aimed at preventing overdoses, coordinating state efforts to promote treatment and recovery, and restoring funding for multijurisdictional law enforcement drug task forces.
The ‘Recovery Washington’ package is designed to complement treatment efforts launched by last year’s Legislature and proposed for expansion this year. The package was announced at a news conference Wednesday by leading members of the Senate Republican Caucus. The bills give the state new tools to lead the fight against opioid addiction and overdose deaths.
“The human suffering caused by our opioid epidemic breaks all of our hearts,” said Sen. Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, deputy leader of the Senate Republican Caucus. “Everyone in Washington likely knows someone who has been affected by the tragic increase in opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths. It will take a cohesive effort to end this plague, so that fathers will no longer have to be ashamed and mothers will no longer have to grieve for the children they have lost.”
Gildon was joined at a news conference unveiling the Recovery Washington package by Senate Republican leader John Braun, R-Centralia, and Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver. The senators noted the alarming rise in overdose deaths in Washington state – a 40 percent increase over the 12 months preceding August 2023, the greatest increase of any state nationally, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. About 2,700 drug overdose deaths were reported statewide in 2022.
Statewide statistics for 2023 aren’t in yet, but King County alone reports that suspected-and-confirmed overdose deaths due to alcohol and drugs rose 30 percent last year, from 1,001 to 1,303. The vast majority of those deaths involved fentanyl – 1,071.
“The fast-rising death toll in our state from drug overdoses underscores the urgency of this problem,” Braun said. “We commend this year’s proposals for expansion of treatment programs, and we can build on them. We shouldn’t weaken law enforcement efforts to pay for it. The deadly fentanyl surge calls for all of us in the Legislature to work together and put our best ideas forward.”
Recovery Washington proposals increase state oversight and management of the opioid crisis, create a public education campaign, and provide a stable source of funding for tribal opioid treatment and recovery programs,
“While access to treatment is critical, preventing opioid abuse in the first place will make the support for treatment go even farther,” said Wilson, Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and a member of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. Wilson plans to put priority on the proposals when negotiating mid-cycle adjustments to the state operating budget.
“The changes made in a supplemental budget should focus on responding to shifting caseloads, correcting mistakes and addressing emergencies,” she said. “The fentanyl crisis is an emergency by any definition. It cannot wait for the full budget rewrite coming next year.”
Bills in the Recovery Washington package include:
SB 5906 – (L. Wilson) – Creating a statewide drug overdose prevention and education campaign. The Department of Health would oversee a campaign aimed at adults and the young, providing information about the dangers of methamphetamines and opioids, with emphasis on fentanyl. It also would provide information about drug addiction and the prevention of overdose deaths, treatment programs and state laws providing immunity for those who seek assistance in overdose cases. The bill has been passed by the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee and referred to the Ways and Means Committee.
SB 6099 – (Braun) – Creating the Tribal Opioid Prevention and Treatment Account. Washington is due to receive at least $480 million over the next 17 years from pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors as its share of settlements in national opioid lawsuits. Tribes were not parties to the suits, yet are among the hardest-hit demographic groups in the state. The bill gives Washington tribes a 20 percent share of the settlement funds, or at least $7.75 million annually. Funds would be earmarked for tribal programs to combat opioids, including prevention and recovery services, educational campaigns and support for first responders. The bill has received a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
SB 6134 – (Gildon) – Launching programs to prevent overdoses and illicit use of opioids, including:
- Directing the Department of Health to develop a mapping system for overdoses, fatal and non-fatal. The “heat map” would be designed to show areas of greatest need for state resources and intervention. The department would devise the mapping system with support from emergency medical services providers, law enforcement agencies and coroners.
- Creating a Washington State Opioid Trends Review Committee under the Department of Health. The committee would monitor trends in illicit opioid use and overdoses, identify causes and review factors such as homelessness and crime. The committee, composed of experts in public health, physicians, law enforcement, coroners, and persons who have experienced an overdose, would make recommendations for further state action.
- Restoring funding to local law enforcement task forces to combat drug trafficking. Since 2005, the state has passed along federal Department of Justice funding to multijurisdictional drug task forces, which have used the money to intercept shipments and bust drug gangs – about $4.2 million in the current fiscal year. This year, however, state Department of Commerce officials plan to cut the law enforcement funding and redirect federal funds to drug education and treatment, and to programs unrelated to drugs, such as protecting election workers. While the governor has proposed a partial $2.7 million restoration with state funds, the bill proposes a $7 million state grant program for the drug task forces, to be administered by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
- The bill has received a hearing in the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee.
SB 6297 – (Gildon) – Improving effectiveness of pre-trial drug-treatment diversion programs. The bill gives courts tighter control over pre-trial diversion programs for defendants with substance abuse issues. It creates a new process allowing them to impose conditions assuring defendants enter and complete drug treatment. Courts would be allowed to require that defendants be escorted to treatment facilities, and that providers report about defendants’ participation. Under the current system, many defendants released on their own recognizance fail to enter or complete court-mandated treatment, and only about half return for trial. The bill has been referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee.