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Fentanyl-related deaths among children under 1 have quadrupled in just 2 years

Fentanyl deaths in America doubled in the two years from 2019-2021. But in that same time, deaths among infants to 1-year-olds quadrupled.

SEATTLE — King County is seeing more cases that involve young children and fentanyl exposure. In some instances, the results have been deadly.

At 2:55 a.m. on Nov. 29, police were called to a Redmond gas station because of a car parked at a gas pump for three hours. When officers approached, they say in the driver's seat they found a 28-year-old woman slumped over with her lethargic and pale 3-month-old son in her lap. According to police, inches away was unpackaged, loose narcotics and a pipe on a child's "Sponge Bob" plate.

The baby was rushed to the hospital. The child tested positive for fentanyl and methamphetamines, according to law enforcement. He did survive.

On Thursday, the child's mother was in court to face charges that include Endangerment with a Controlled Substance.

Cases involving fentanyl exposure and children are becoming more common, according to King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Celia Lee

"The first case that I can think of where fentanyl played a role in a child's death in combination with other factors was in 2019,” said Lee. "Last year was a record year.”

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office handled three separate cases of overdose deaths from fentanyl involving toddlers.

According to the organization, Families Against Fentanyl, nationally fentanyl deaths doubled in the two years from 2019-2021. But in that same time, deaths among infants to 1-year-olds quadrupled.

“When a child survives exposure to fentanyl, there are only limited charges available to us,” said Lee.

Lee says the felony charge of endangerment with a controlled substance is a law written nearly two decades ago that mentions methamphetamine but not fentanyl.

"If it's simply fentanyl and the child survives, what we're limited to is a misdemeanor charge which is really disproportionate to the danger in the harm,” said Lee. “That law hasn't really caught up to where we are today with the fentanyl crisis.

Lee along with prosecutors from other jurisdictions are pushing for a law that includes fentanyl. Lee says her interaction with that is she wants children safe and not in an environment where they are exposed to the deadly drug.

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