Overdose training popular, even though rare on BI

Opioids are not as big of a problem on Bainbridge Island as alcohol or marijuana, but they are still a concern.

Synthetic opioids are becoming easier to come by, either intentionally or by accident, said Kelsey Lynch, community health navigator for BI police.

Lynch was part of an overdose prevention training program on BI April 4.

A person’s first encounter with opioids is often in their own medicine cabinet; what starts as a casual high can quickly become a dangerous addiction. “People usually overdose on synthetic opioids or other people’s medications,” Lynch said. “They transition from [other drugs] to whatever is the lowest barrier — what happened with fentanyl is, ease of access is off the charts.”

The BI Fire Department, in coordination with other local health and emergency services, hosted the training by the Kitsap Public Health District April 4. Nearly 40 residents, including state Rep. Greg Nance and police chief Joe Clark, learned about opioids, how to identify signs of an overdose in progress and how to administer naloxone. KPHD provided free naloxone kits and locking boxes to keep prescriptions in at the event.

Since 2019, the synthetic opioid fentanyl has swept the nation into a public health crisis, officials said. In Kitsap County, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths has exploded since 2018, rising to almost one-quarter of all injury deaths. Opioids accounted for more than three in four drug-related deaths in 2022.

KPHD community liaison Sarah Kinnear outlined opioid facts in a presentation. She clarified terms, dispelled myths, identified characteristics of an overdose and walked attendees through the process of administering naloxone. “Whether the opioid was acquired legally [via prescription] or illegally, the risks are similar,” Kinnear said.

An overdose can look like other health conditions, such as hypoglycemia in diabetics because it suppresses the respiratory system, she explained. “If you’re in doubt, don’t wait,” she said — naloxone is safe to administer to someone who is not experiencing an overdose. Overdoses for any kind of drug are fairly rare on BI, but they’re increasing. Between 2016 and 2023, there were 11 fatal overdoses on BI and 34 non-fatal overdoses from 2019-23 — proportionally higher than all of Kitsap.

A recent study by the KPHD reveals that high school students on BI had markedly higher rates of alcohol use and binge drinking. One in five students had a drink in the month prior to the assessment, and 14.5% reported binge drinking — about double the second-highest percentage countywide, behind only Central Kitsap. “A lot of people are struggling with multiple addictions,” Lynch said. “It often starts with marijuana and alcohol.”

Bainbridge Youth Services leads an annual panel discussion about alcohol and narcotic use with students in high school and middle school on BI. The best defense is a good offense, Lynch emphasized. “Education and awareness are the most effective prevention strategies,” she said. “Fentanyl isn’t this separate monster. When more people know the concerns and start talking to youth, it destigmatizes the issue.”