Snohomish County sees 81% of fentanyl-positive urine samples test positive for meth, report says

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For roughly every 10 fentanyl users in the county, eight of them were also using methamphetamine, a combination that increases the risk of overdose. 

According to a February 2024 report published by California specialty lab Millennium Health, 81% of urine drug tests collected from fentanyl users in Snohomish County tested positive for meth. 

The report also included statewide statistics, including the 8,322% increase in meth present in fentanyl-positive urine samples and a 1,411% increase of cocaine in the fentanyl-positive samples since 2013. 

Millennium Health collected data from 4 million patients across the country from when researchers say the fentanyl crisis began in 2013 to 2023. 

Mixing fentanyl and methamphetamine increases the risk of overdose, Eric Dawson, vice president of clinical affairs at Millennium Health, said.

The drug overdose dashboard on the Snohomish County medical examiner’s office website shows that fatal overdoses from fentanyl in the county increased from 159 in 2021 to 256 in 2023. There was also an increase in fatal meth overdoses during the same time period, but the data does not specify whether the overdoses were 

due to any combination of multiple drugs. 

“It’s important to point out that while fentanyl is the star of this national and Washington state overdose crisis that we face, the most prominent costar is methamphetamine,” Dawson said. 

Dawson described that while mixing these two drugs is sometimes unintentional, users often purposely combine them because of their blended effects. Fentanyl is an opioid 100 times stronger than morphine, meaning it has intense sedative effects. Meth is a stimulant, making the user feel more alert. When used together, the drugs may offset the negative side effects of each other and the meth will then add to the high from fentanyl.

Lance Driscoll, a substance use disorder specialist of 20 years in Everett, has noted an increase in mental health problems in the people he treats. 

Driscoll said some of his patients have post-traumatic stress disorder from the trauma they experienced prior to seeking treatment for their addiction. As a former addict, Driscoll said his background helps him understand his patients and determine the best treatment for them. 

“Many times, because I have a really deep understanding of addiction…I can try to relate to where (someone) is at,” Driscoll said. “I can meet them where they’re at, because I’ve been there.”

Driscoll is an avid advocate of support groups. He talked about rehabilitation resources in the county, such as resource centers, 12-step programs, and churches. He also noted that the stigma around addiction can prevent people from seeking and trusting treatment. 

The Snohomish Overdose Prevention website contains information on ways the public can reduce stigmas, such as identifying popular addiction myths. 

Seeing people overcome a substance use disorder and go to college or get their driver’s license is a kind of “magic” that keeps Driscoll motivated in his work. Dawson also described how seeing people committed to helping others offers hope. 

“The good news is there are people working on better solutions, and people absolutely committed to helping those suffering with substance use and substance use disorder,” Dawson said. “But the fight’s never been tougher.”