There has been a dramatic increase of overdose deaths in Washington linked to illicit fentanyl.

According to the Washington Department of Health, there were 81 fentanyl related deaths in the first half of 2018, compared to 48 deaths during the same time period in 2017. That is an increase of almost 70 percent.

Fentanyl is 30-50 times as strong as pure heroin. Health officials said a dose the size of a few grains of salt can kill an average-size person.

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Illicit fentanyl is being found in new forms, including a variety of counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids, health officials said. The drug has also been found in white and colored powders.

“While fentanyl has been a significant cause of overdose death elsewhere in the United States, our state is now seeing the rise of its deadly impact,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer and co-chair of the state’s Opioid Response Work Group. “We need people who take illicit drugs to seek treatment and take other actions to reduce their risk of an overdose.”

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The Health Department is urging anyone who uses opioids to be alert and carry naloxone. If you see an overdose call 911, give naloxone, and do rescue breathing. Multiple doses of naloxone may be required to restore breathing.

Under Washington law, neither the victim or anyone assisting with an overdose will be prosecuted for drug possession.