Washington state not immune to “deaths of despair”

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Washington state not immune to “deaths of despair”

A recent study from Brookings is garnering national headlines for showing that “deaths of despair” are surging across the U.S. These deaths are caused by alcoholism, suicide, and drug overdoses, including from the opioid epidemic, and have increased dramatically over the last 15 years.


While the causes of these deaths are complex and manifold, we know that overprescribing opioids contributes to the problem. In Washington state, about 600 people die from opioid overdoses every year, and Seattle and King County set a new record for fatal overdoses in 2016. The Alliance’s analysis shows the areas in Washington with the highest and lowest opioid prescribing rates.


This data can provide a starting point for action and help legislators and health care providers target their interventions. In addition, consumers can help manage their risk by becoming educated on the best ways to stay safe when managing pain. In partnership with the Bree Collaborative, we have developed a fact sheet on opioid medication that tells you what you need to know about medication and pain management. Specifically, here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind:


Nationally, 4 in 5 new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers, so it is critical to stem the tide of opioid use and educate both patients and providers about the risks and alternative options.

While there are many steps that our community needs to take, the Alliance and the Bree Collaborative are recommending the following priority actions.

For health care systems (medical groups, clinics, hospitals):

For health insurance plans:

  • Include use of prescribing guidelines in provider contracting as a quality/safety goal.
  • Use claims data to identify individual patients who appear to be high utilizers and identify any patterns of potential overprescribing from clinicians.

Opioid addiction is a critical issue in our state and across the nation, but by working together on awareness and behavior change initiatives, we can reduce opioid use and ultimately save lives.

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