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Experts stress education in lowering youth drug overdose deaths in Washington

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(The Center Square) – Washington state experts are working to find solutions to a steady increase in overdose deaths that are occurring in the 18-24 age demographic. Last year, there were 221 overdose deaths in that population, with 192 of those deaths involving traces of fentanyl.

That’s according to data presented by Washington Department of Health Chief Science Officer Tao Kwan-Gett at Monday’s Washington State Children and Youth Behavioral Health Work Group meeting urging more education on youth opioid use. This includes changing the perception of drug use and addiction.

“We really need to approach this with compassion and a non-judgmental voice to remove stigma, because it’s only by removing stigma and by treating opioid use, not as a moral failing, but as a public health issue,” Kwan-Gett said.

Christina Muller-Shinn, a program assistant at Mason County Public Health, mentioned an instance where she explained what psychosis is to a young child, who realized it was a symptom of their use of methamphetamines.

“These folks are experiencing these things, and they don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that real education is so important so that folks can make informed choices.”

The state Department of Health also emphasized early diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, anxiety and depression in children to provide the necessary tools to cope with negative emotions. By identifying these conditions, the health department believes it could prevent children and young people from using illicit substances.

The work group also noted instances of fentanyl and opioid users sharing the drugs with friends and family. The department added that opioid users should be educated on how to prevent an overdose, recognize the signs of overdose and how to respond, including implementation of the overdose reversal drug naloxone.

Washington State Health Care Authority Deputy Chief Medical Officer Charissa Fotinos emphasized that naloxone, otherwise known by the brand name Narcan, can not save people from addiction.

“Narcan will not get us out of this. Narcan saves people who are near death or dying; it is not treatment,” she said. “The good news is that it is more readily available.”

Two new over-the-counter versions of naloxone are going to be available soon, according to Fotinos. These reversal drugs are priced between $30 ad $50.

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